Change of Use


Issued by the SPAB Committee, 2002

Building reuseMany historic buildings have well-established and appropriate uses. Occasionally though; some change is required to ensure a structure’s future care, repair and protection. Creative adaptation can contribute positively to a building’s history; equally, inappropriate re-use can fundamentally detract from its special interest. The SPAB therefore believes that, where some change of use to an historic structure is considered essential, it is necessary to look carefully at the effect on all aspects of the building’s character, fabric and setting. The following checklist is therefore intended to assist owners and their advisers in establishing what alternative use, if any, is most appropriate. The list should be read in conjunction with SPAB advisory documents and other statutory and non-statutory conservation guidance.

If the current use continues to be appropriate can it be maintained? If not why not?

If the building is currently redundant is there an immediate need for a change in use? Would minimal protective works, to allow "mothballing", or a short term low-key use, be a preferable alternative?

Is the new use likely to secure a future for the building, and to be viable for a foreseeable period without major change or addition?

Has the building been offered on the open market for its present use (if appropriate)?

To identify what might have least impact on fabric and character, has the nature of the building been fully understood?

An appreciation of the history and development of a place is essential in considering future use. Preparation of a Conservation Plan or Statement identifying the special interest of the building and its context, may help in this.

Have all potentially sympathetic uses been properly explored?

It may be possible to argue for forms of re-use which have significant benefits for the special interest of the building and its setting, even if contrary to normal local plan policy. This is particularly so in the case of listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

Can the building accommodate the requirements of the new use without seriously compromising the architectural character and/or historic fabric? Issues may include:

  • New openings:  number, type, style
  • Fire & Safety:  additional means of escape, protected stairs, upgrading of existing doors, partitions
  • Physical barriers to access:  thresholds, ramps, door furniture
  • Sub-division of existing rooms/spaces:  cornicing, panelling, plan form
  • Extension:  scale, design, use of materials, abutment with the existing building
  • Servicing:  introduction of pipework, electrical cabling, altering internal environment
  • The extent of rebuilding, if derelict or a ruin.
  • Floor loadings:  strengthening existing floor structures
  • Sound insulation: increased insulation requirements to floors walls and glazing
  • Thermal performance : increased insulation requirements to floors walls roofs and glazing

Can the building accommodate the requirements of the new use without seriously compromising its setting? Issues may include: -

  • Increased car parking:  location, surfacing, entrance/exit, sight lines
  • Division of open spaces:  building groups, farmyards
  • Separation from any historically-linked curtilage buildings
  • Fragmentation of the long term management of the buildings
  • Impact on standing or buried archaeological remains
  • Hard and soft landscaping: character of existing landscaping
  • Effect on the broader character of the Conservation Area

If circumstances change can any alterations be reversed without damage to the building? Reversibility should not be an excuse for work of poor quality, and sometimes there may be advantage in well conceived and executed permanent alteration, but the case for making change reversible should always be considered.