Who to talk to about your old building
Who to talk to, when and why. This article explains the role of the conservation officer, architect, building surveyor, engineer, contractor and National Amenity Societies.
Within your local authority’s planning department there is a conservation specialist, usually called a Conservation officer. The role of of this officer is slightly different dependant on the authority, however, broadly they will be determining or be consulted upon all listed building consent applications the authority receives and should be consulted on planning applications effecting the fabric or setting of listed buildings or for demolition or development within a conservation area. Conservation Officers are usually the members of the planning department tasked with identifying, reviewing and designating conservation areas and locally listed buildings and are also involved with designating heritage assets at a national level and identifying heritage at risk in conjunction with Historic England or the relevant national body.
If you are considering works to a listed building or development within a conservation area you should consult your Conservation Officer to determine what permissions and consents will be required and also to discuss any details of the scheme at a pre-application stage. The earlier you consult the local authority, the better. Seeking pre-application advice can be invaluable in understanding the parameters of what works are likely to be acceptable to undertake and can save you time and money later in the process.
If you are concerned about the condition of an historic building or unauthorised works being carried out to an historic building in your area the Conservation Officer should be your first point of contact. They will be able to take the case up with Enforcement colleagues and, hopefully, begin the dialogue with the owner.
Architect or building surveyor
Architects and building surveyors advise on, design and supervise work to old buildings. Unless work that you are planning is minor or straightforward in nature, it is normally advisable to to engage the services of an architect or building surveyor to develop your proposals rather than go straight to a contractor, which experience shows will often prove to be a false economy. The plans produced by an architect or building surveyor can not only be used for obtaining any necessary statutory permissions (such as listed building consent) but allow you to obtain competitive quotations from contractors pricing on an equal basis for work that is clearly defined. Before appointing an architect or building surveyor ensure that you are clear what you want to achieve. Your brief to them should establish your budget, priorities and the nature of the services you require as well as the desired timescale.
Only a small proportion of architects and building surveyors have taken additional training focused specifically on working with old buildings. These professionals possess a postgraduate diploma from one of a handful of universities or have undergone the SPAB's coveted Scholarship programme. You can obtain the names of such architects and buildings advisors by calling our Technical Advice Line (cross ref?) or consulting one of the recognised lists of peer-vetted accredited professionals (www.aabc-register.co.uk and www.rics.org/uk/join/member-accreditations/building-conservation-accredi...).
Be aware that mortgage valuation surveys are designed to check that the value of a property covers the loan requested for a purchase – it is not a proper survey of the condition. It will normally be carried out by a surveyor who does not specialise in older buildings and may offer a mortgage based on the condition that certain work is carried out. This may, however, be unsuitable for an old building. The most common example is the condition that a damp-proof course (DPC) be inserted into an old, solid wall when in reality this is often completely unnecessary. It is also worth treating recommendations on energy performance certificates (EPCs) with a caution. The assessment procedures are not geared towards older buildings and in our experience can result in misleading advice.
The term 'engineer' includes both structural engineers, and mechanical and electrical engineers. Their more specialist input may be required with work on an old building in addition to that of an architect of building surveyor.
Structural engineers deal with the loadbearing aspects of buildings and other structures. Names of structural engineers knowledgeable about old buildings can be obtained by calling the SPAB's Technical Advice Line (cross-ref?). As with architects and building surveyors, a small percentage of structural engineers are accredited in building conservation. They are on the Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers (CARE), which is run by the Institute of Structural Engineers (IStructE) and Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE).
Mechanical and electrical (M&E) engineers are involved with building services. Consultant M&E engineers advise on, design and supervise services work to buildings. They are distinct from M&E contractors who, like general building contractors, carry out building work on site.
A building contractor or builder undertakes building work on site. It is important to select a contractor who understands the special needs of older buildings. Many contractors who undertake good work on new buildings inadvertently harm older ones by applying the same methods and materials, which can be totally unsuitable. A common cause of damage, for example, is the use of standard modern cement instead of traditional lime for filling the joints ('pointing') old walls. This prevents them from breathing and can significantly hasten their deterioration. Unless work that you are planning is minor or straightforward in nature, it is normally advisable to to engage the services of an architect or building surveyor to develop your proposals rather than go straight to a contractor, which experience shows will often prove to be a false economy.
The SPAB can advise on the names of contractors suitable for carrying out work on older buildings over our technical advice line. These include those who have undertaken the Society's well-regarded William Morris Craft Fellowship training programme.
National Amenity Societies
There are six National Amenity Societies (of which the SPAB is one) that must be notified by local planning authorities of all applications that involve the total or partial demolition of a listed building, giving them an opportunity to comment on the proposed scheme. The Societies also have a similar role within the ecclesiastical consent systems operated by the religious denominations that are granted exemption from secular listed building controls.
Each of the Societies has their own area of interest which can be summarised as:
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings - buildings of all kinds containing fabric and fittings which date from the period before 1720 where it concerns casework, and for all buildings of traditional construction with regards to our specialist and technical research.
Ancient Monuments Society: concerns itself with historic buildings of all ages and types.
Council for British Archaeology: concerned not with aesthetics, or amenity considerations, but with the archaeological evidence contained in the fabric of the structure of traditional buildings.
Georgian Grouo: buildings of all kinds containing fabric and fittings which date from between 1700 and 1837.
Victorian Society: buildings of all kinds containing fabric and fittings which date from between1837 and 1914.
Twentieth Century Society: buildings of all kinds containing fabric and fittings which date from 1914.
If you are the owner or caretaker of an historic building and you are considering works to that building then contacting the relevant National Amenity Society at the pre-application stage to seek their advice is best practice and can save time and money later in the process.
If you are concerned about a building at risk it may also be helpful to contact the relevant National Amenity Society who may be able to campaign on the building’s behalf or advise you about starting your own local campaign.
Historic England (and other National bodies)
Historic England (or Cadw in Wales and Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland) is the arms length government body responsible for looking after England’s heritage and advising government and the public about its protection.
Historic England has many different teams who specialise in different areas of heritage protection. It can provide advice to developers and owners on works to listed buildings, advice on archaeological matters, specialist technical advice and is the organisation tasked with protecting Heritage at Risk. More information about who to contact and when can be found on their website.