There are over 47,000 listed buildings in Scotland. Not all are old/ historic interest – some are listed for special architectural merit, such as the 1960s multi-storey blocks in Aberdeen, listed in 2021.

The preference for brownfield development is back on the Scottish Government agenda, and sustainability principles mean that demolition of buildings is harder to justify.

Listed buildings are often converted to residential use. Large projects include Jordanhill College in Glasgow, and Donaldson's School and Boroughmuir High in Edinburgh. On a smaller scale, there are proposals to convert Brodies' former office in Atholl Crescent to flats – the Crescent is listed.

What does listed mean?

It is possible to redevelop a listed building, but there are more hoops to go through: works are likely to require listed building consent as well as planning permission. Although separate applications are required, the planning authority decides both applications, normally at the same time. As outlined below, the issues are different, but with some overlap

Protection of setting

The setting of the listed building is also protected, which might limit the number and type of homes which can be built if there is a listed building on the site or in the vicinity.

Different categories of listed buildings

Listed buildings in Scotland are divided into categories A, B and C. These categories now refer respectively to outstanding examples; buildings of regional or more than local importance; and representative examples. These categories provide a rough indication of how difficult it will be to obtain consent for alterations/ redevelopment. However, the primary consideration is the impact on particular features of interest, ie. the reasons for the building being listed.

What issues arise in redeveloping listed buildings?

  • the requirement for listed building consent adds an extra layer of protection which has to be taken into account in the development design process;
  • That protection can extend to items such as stained glass windows and lead urns;
  • Internal works - planning permission is not generally required for internal works, but listed building consent might be, depending on the features of interest (in our Atholl Crescent office, listed building consent was required to change an internal door from wood to glass); and
  • Potential liability to reverse previous works done without listed building consent – the 4/ 10 year immunity period does not apply

What are the penalties for unauthorised works on listed buildings?

It is an offence to carry out demolition or works which require listed building consent without obtaining such consent. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to two years and/ or an unlimited fine. It is therefore important to check whether listed building consent is required.

Potential solutions when dealing with listed buildings

The key is to understand why a building is listed and use that understanding to produce design proposals which are sympathetic. Alterations to similar buildings in the area might give an indication of what is acceptable. Pre-application discussions with the planning authority and Historic Environment Scotland are an opportunity to evolve acceptable proposals. If there are viability issues, expert reports might be required to justify compromises.

Enabling development

The Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) recognises that new development, including housing, can be permitted as enabling development, to provide funds to restore a listed building. That restoration provides a reason to grant planning permission for the housing development, which might otherwise be contrary to policy.

Planning permission for enabling development involves phasing and other restrictions, to ensure that the funds for the restoration are delivered.

Certificate of intention not to list

Local people and other supporters often feel a building is worthy of listing. To avoid surprises, a developer can apply to Historic Environment Scotland for a certificate stating that it does not intend to list a building. That prevents the building from being listed for 5 years.


Listed buildings add another layer of complexity to development proposals. Legal and design advice should be taken at an early stage to establish what can and can't be done with existing listed buildings and their surroundings.


Neil Collar