Listed buildings are recognised by the Government as being of special architectural or historic interest, as specified by the Planning (Listed buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Listed building consent is required before any alterations, extensions or demolitions can be made to a listed building which might affect its character.
Though described as 'listed buildings' the term can relate to any type of structure including tombstones, crosses, post boxes, lampposts and milestones. Structures are inspected, described and assessed in terms of their history, appearance, function and building construction.
They may then be assigned one of three grades, Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II. The highest grade, I, is applied to buildings of 'exceptional interest'. Grade II* is applied to 'particularly important buildings of more then special interest', whilst the lowest grade, II, is applied to buildings of 'special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them'.
Listed Building descriptions are arranged alphabetically according to the street and the parish in which they are located. Once listed, the structure's description is added to the official list and substantial changes cannot be undertaken without local authority permission and guidance. This permission is termed 'listed building consent'. English Heritage is currently in charge of assessing and listing structures. A new system called designations is planned to soon take over from listed and scheduled ancient monument status.
Most listed buildings are privately owned houses in towns and villages. If you want to find out if your house is listed you can search the Exploring Surrey's Past database.
District councils are also compiling local listings, which will include and protect houses of significant local importance.