How to save a landmark from a hit list: Obtaining a preservation order for a building in your neighbourhood is easier than many think, and may help to keep up house prices. Paul Gosling reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HOME OWNERS who wish to preserve the character of their neighbourhoods, and perhaps the value of their houses, can take encouragement from the experience of Joan Harris of Leicester.

Worried that a local landmark might be demolished, Ms Harris applied successfully for it to be protected as a listed building.

Ms Harris, a university administrator, has lived in her terrace house in Leicester since August 1992, and one of the outstanding features of the area is a large and ornate factory in an adjoining street. The Wheat- Sheaf Works, owned by the Co- operative Wholesale Society, is so large that she can see the clock tower from her back garden.

'I assumed they would pull it down as it was not being used,' said Ms Harris. 'I was frightened to hear that the Co- op societies were selling off old buildings, and I thought it might be demolished.

'I contacted someone in the (council's) planning department to find out if it was already listed, and I was horrified to find out it wasn't. It is beautiful - a very fine piece of architecture, with very decorative brickwork and a lovely clock tower.'

Ms Harris was pleased to find out how easy it was to get a building listed. She wrote to the Department of National Heritage in August last year, explaining why she thought the factory was attractive and worth preserving, enclosing photographs. Last month the department told her that a Grade II listing had been approved.

This does not make it impossible for the building to be demolished and replaced by a hypermarket or industrial estate, but it does make it much less likely. Grade II is the lowest importance of listing, accounting for 94 per cent of listed buildings. A Grade I or Grade II* property would have stronger protection.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society declined to confirm that it wished to redevelop the site. A spokeswoman said: 'We are considering the implications of listed-building status on this particular property and may appeal.'

There is, though, no formal right of appeal against the listing of a building. An owner may ask for the building to be de- listed if the decision was based on factually incorrect information. If an owner applies to do work to a building and is turned down by the council, a local inquiry is held.

English Heritage, which advises the Department of National Heritage, produces guidelines for the listing of buildings. Older buildings, especially those predating 1700, are most favoured, and recent properties only if they are of particular significance.

The Leicester factory was described in the listing schedule as the largest footwear factory in the world when built, in 1891, and the style was described as neo-Jacobean.

Local estate agents were unable to estimate the effects on the value of Ms Harris's terrace house. Redevelopment might cause a short-term drop in house prices, which could rise again when work was completed. Long-term effects on prices would depend on what was built and what extra traffic was generated.

David Johnson, of Spencers, estate agents, said: 'For low-value housing I debate whether it would have a material affect.' Higher-value properties were more likely to depreciate, he suggested. Mr Johnson said there were problems attached to listing of a property. 'There may be an additional risk that it will be empty for longer, more vandalised and very unpleasant for local householders. It is a nice amenity to live next to, but (listing) has to be practically applied.'

Domestic as well as commercial property could be difficult to sell once it was listed, Mr Johnson said. 'We were agents for a private residence in the nearby village of Shepshed, some elements of which were listed. The need to maintain it deterred some prospective purchasers, and it took longer to sell, and suffered more vandalism.'

Mr Johnson added that one of the firm's own offices is a listed building, and renovation took an extra six months in order to comply with listed-building regulations.

'The listing of a building can enhance or depreciate its value: it depends on the reasons for its listing.'

Owners of listed buildings, and properties in conservation areas, may qualify for help with maintaining properties, either from English Heritage or the local authority. Some grants are means-tested.

Earlier this month English Heritage announced that 14 historic towns and cities had become Conservation Area Partnerships, where more buildings will be eligible for restoration money.

(Photograph omitted)