Listed buildings

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who believe the council has failed to take account of a listed building when dealing with a planning application and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The council has not properly taken into account the fact that a building is listed when considering an application for planning permission. Can the Ombudsman help me? 

  • Yes, in some circumstances, although we cannot overrule the council's decision to grant or refuse permission. Councils have a duty to have special regard to the desirability, in the public interest, of preserving listed buildings or their settings or any features of special architectural or historic interest they possess.
  • If you believe the council did something wrong when it determined a planning application affecting a listed building, you can complain to us. 
  • We may consider complaints from local or national amenity/conservation groups and individuals who believe the historic or distinctive environment near their home has been lost or damaged, or threatened with damage or deterioration.  

How do I complain? 

  • You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
  • Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.
  • You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for? 

If we investigate we might find that the council:

  • failed to take into account the setting of a nearby listed building when granting planning permission
  • failed to take enforcement action where work affecting a listed building was carried out without listed building consent
  • failed to enforce conditions subject to which listed building consent was granted, or
  • failed to follow the correct procedure – for example, councils must notify English Heritage and other national amenity groups when they receive applications affecting exceptional listed buildings (Grade I and II*) or their settings. There are more extensive notification requirements within Greater London. 

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault? 

It depends on the fault and what the consequences are for you. We can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. Depending on the effect upon you, we may ask the council to:

  • pay for remedial work or screening if that will reduce the harm caused, or
  • pay compensation if remedial work is not possible, and
  • improve procedures so that the same problems do not occur again.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Ms B complained the Authority had failed to take enforcement action in response to breaches of planning control on a listed building. Ms B considered this had resulted in loss of heritage and wildlife. Enforcement action is discretionary and government guidance says local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. In deciding whether it is expedient to initiate enforcement action, the Authority will wish to take account of several different factors including national and local planning policies, permitted development rights, whether the development is likely to be granted planning permission, and the need to achieve a balance between the protection of amenity and permitting development which is acceptable. The Authority properly considered whether to take enforcement action or not and informed Ms B of its decision and reasons. The Ombudsman found no evidence of fault in the Authority’s decision making.
Mr X complained the Council has failed to take effective action to protect a large grade II listed building in his area. Councils have a range of enforcement powers to protect heritage assets that can be used at their discretion. The powers range from reminding owners and others of their responsibilities to maintain and protect heritage assets, through to criminal enforcement for unlawful work on listed buildings and entering onto land to take direct action. Government guidance says that councils should act proportionately when deciding whether to take formal enforcement action. The Ombudsman expects councils to take account of all the key material considerations before making its decisions. The Council followed the correct process for considering planning and listed building enforcement. The Ombudsman found no evidence of fault in the Council’s decision making process.
Mr X complained about the Council’s decision on a planning application, which he considered would impact a listed building. The Council received a planning application for a development within the conservation area and adjoining the grounds of a Grade II* listed building. Mr X said the development would have an unacceptable impact on the character of his local area. However, the Council’s Building Conservation Officer decided the impact of the proposal on the character of the conservation area would not be unacceptably harmed. The Ombudsman found some fault in the Council’s decision making in relation to other matters but did not consider this affected the validity of the Building Conservation Officer’s decision. The Ombudsman ended its investigation as it did not consider the identified fault caused Mr X an injustice.
Mr X complained the Council wrongly refused his application for Listed Building Consent. The Local Government Ombudsman would not investigate a complaint about a refusal of a planning application or the reasonableness of any conditions attached to a planning permission, as these could be appealed to a Planning Inspector.
Mr S complained about a council’s failure to protect a Grade II listed wall from falling into disrepair and, in his view, becoming unsafe. The council had inspected the wall: it found it would benefit from repair but it was structurally stable. The council was aware of its powers in respect of dangerous buildings and structures and in respect of repairs notices but, because the wall was not, in its view, dangerous and it had no wish to acquire it compulsorily, it did not consider action appropriate. As the council inspected the wall and considered its options in an appropriate manner, there was no maladministration fault in the decision it reached, notwithstanding that Mr S did not agree about the safety of the wall.

Other sources of information

Useful information about the process of listing and listed buildings generally can be found at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing  

If you are unhappy about the way your application for listed building consent has been dealt with please also see our fact sheet on complaints from planning applicants.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

September 2019