Archaeology for all - Council for British Archaeology

Archaeology Matters

CBA and listed buildings

As part of its core activities the CBA undertakes casework on listed building applications across England and Wales.


The CBA Historic Buildings Casework

Over 4,000 listed building applications from England and Wales are sent to the Council for British Archaeology each year. Using a network of expert local correspondents, a specialist panel of advisors and professional staff we advise on how to minimise the impact of a proposal, and on assessment and recording.

The CBA’s primary concern lies not with aesthetics, or amenity considerations, but archaeology. The  approach includes:

  • an appreciation of the building as a totality,
  • an assessment of the significance of the building within its neighbourhood and region,
  • an ability to estimate the likelihood of evidence latent within the building or the site it occupies,
  • an ability to recognise and draw attention to those buildings of complicated development which straddle the interests of several period societies and where the long evolution is itself of significance.

As well as advising on formal notifications through the listed building consent system we welcome informal contacts from owners, developers, architects, local groups or individuals.

What has archaeology got to do with buildings?

Archaeology is the study of the material remains and environmental effects of human behaviour. Evidence can range from landscapes to microscopic organisms and covers all periods from the origins of human life to the remains of twentieth-century industry and warfare.

Standing buildings, as much as the remains of those buried underground, are witnesses to that past and can tell us about the technology, social organisations, aspirations and everyday life of the people who once lived there.

Historic buildings are also essential components of our everyday surroundings. They are part of the familiar and cherished local scene and, together with street patterns and open space, define both the historic development of a settlement and the way we live today.

Walmgate_York Conservation Trust

Taking an archaeological approach to alterations

Most historic buildings have evolved through a series of additions and alterations over time. This process provides archaeologists with physical evidence of changes in technology, fashion and in the way people use buildings.

Change must continue if historic buildings are to have a future; equally, listed buildings form a precious and limited resource, and it is right that proposals for change should be considered in a careful and informed way. It is particularly desirable to safeguard those aspects of a building which make it special.

Taking an archaeological approach to a building can save money and time. A full understanding of its structural development and its surroundings can inform repair, indicate where flexibility lies for more radical alteration, and provide an essential tool for future management.

Ironbridge_best practice recording

Assessing and recording buildings

The need for understanding the importance of the archaeology of buildings and sites is set out in government policy on planning and the historic environment in the National Plannng Policy Framework (NPPF).

The NPPF sets out the requirement for assessment of the impact of proposals on the significance of heritage assets such as listed buildings, before applications are determined. Such assessments are usually rapid and relatively inexpensive.

It's most useful to make your assessments at the earliest stages of formulating your proposal. This can help to avoid time-consuming or costly alterations at later stages and should indicate the limits of alteration which would be appropriate. The local county or district archaeologist should be able to advise on the scope of such an assessment and on appropriately qualified people to carry it out.

Where a proposal has been granted consent by the local authority, but entails loss of historic fabric or there is a likelihood that hidden features will be revealed, applicants may be asked to make provision for recording. This may be required as a condition of the listed building consent.

Legislation, archaeology and buildings

Listing protects a small percentage of buildings with special architectural or historic interest, under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 , while some unoccupied buildings are scheduled as ancient monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Currently about 500,000 individual buildings are listed – a tiny number compared to the total stock. Buildings can be listed at Grade I (of exceptional interest: about 2%); II* (of more than special interest: about 4%); and II (of special interest: 94%).

  • The protection offered by listing is universal and covers the whole building, including the interior – it does not differ with the listing grade.

Listing a building does not prohibit change, but aims to manage it by requiring owners to apply for listed building consent for demolition or for works of alteration or extension which would affect the building’s character. Unlike planning permission no fee is payable, and the process of making a listed building consent application gives an owner or developer access to expert conservation advice from the local authority, national and local expert societies and English Heritage.

The local planning authority is required to notify the national amenity societies, of which the Council for British Archaeology is one, of any application for listed building consent which involves demolition of a listed building or alteration which includes the demolition of any part of a building. See The Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies’ (JCNAS) website for further information.

You can search applications and casework through the online CBA database at

Useful addresses

Visit these websites for more information.

English Heritage

Ancient Monuments Society

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Georgian Group

Victorian Society

Twentieth Century Society

Garden History Society

SAVE Britain’s Heritage

Institute for Archaeologists (IfA)

IfA Buildings Special Interest Group
c/o IfA Reading office

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers

CBA database of planning applications and casework

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