The start of Listing as we know it today
1947 Town and Country Planning Act

Much has been made this year of the 70th anniversary of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. In many respects, this was a major turning point for this country’s built heritage as it introduced the listing of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Prior to that a far less formal listing arrangement had been instigated during the Second World War to identify important buildings, particularly in London but also round the country, that should be restored were they to suffer bomb damage.

The Act introduced the idea of planning at a local level through a Local Planning Authority which, amongst other responsibilities, was given the power to serve building preservation orders. However, there was still a degree of central government control as preservation orders had to be confirmed by the Minister. Once a preservation order had been served on a property consent had to be obtained before works to a building could be undertaken.

In theory, the Act was a great step forward, however there were three particular problems as far as the survival of historic houses were concerned. Firstly, owners of some of the country’s most important buildings were struggling to undertake repair or restoration work following the lack of maintenance or damage during the War. Some owners were desperate to remove unwanted wings, extensions or ancillary buildings to make their property more manageable and meet the needs of the second half of the 20th century. Secondly there was such a shortage of suitable building materials that initially the amount that could be spent was capped at £100 per annum. Some owners were so desperate they undertook work at night in the hope of not being detected and were prepared to risk undertaking unauthorised alterations as the maximum fine was £100. Thirdly, as planning permission was not needed to demolish a building, unless a building preservation order had been served, a significant number of buildings were demolished before they even appeared on the radar of the newly established local planning authority.

The property market at the end of the 1940s and into the 1950s was so depressed that buyers could not be found to take on and live in a number of the great houses that came to the market and they were eventually sold to salvage merchants. The loss of such houses did not stop even when the market started to recover and between 1947 and the early 1970s when the tide of fortune eventually turned it is estimated that between 25% and 50% of the grand country houses and several London mansions that stood at the turn of the century were destroyed. The list of London and country houses lost makes grim reading.

To quote the famous words used by Sir Winston Churchill on the victory at El Alamein, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was “not the end it is not even the beginning of the end but it is perhaps the end of the beginning”. Gradually over the following decades additional protection was afforded to listed buildings.

Dawn Carritt
020 7664 6646