A guide to providing disabled access in listed buildings

UK Platform Lifts; Bespoke Lifts

A listed building is any structure of national and historic importance which has been protected by law, and given either Grade 1, Grade 2* or Grade 2 status. Listing buildings helps to protect them from demolition, ensuring that future generations still get the chance to appreciate their beauty and historical significance. More recently, listed buildings are being transformed for commercial use as shops, hotels and even restaurants — London’s acclaimed Quo Vadis, for example, is housed inside a grade 1 listed building which was formerly occupied by Karl Marx.

However, listed buildings can create issues for their owners, particularly when it comes to properly incorporating disabled access without interfering with the building’s structure. Many older properties aren’t equipped to accommodate accessibility features like ramps and lifts, making it difficult to cater to those who are disabled. However, with the right planning it is possible to make a listed building more accessible.

What is the grading system for listed buildings?

Historic England is responsible and in control of grading listing buildings, with around 400,000 building entries in England. The grading system is as follows:

  • Grade 1 buildings are of “exceptional interest”, and considered to have outstanding national, historic or architectural interest. Only 2.5% of all listed structures fall into this category, including St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Brighton Pavilion.
  • Grade 2* structures are “particularly important buildings of more than special interest”, such as Wanstead House in Cambridge and The Gothic Temple in Surrey.
  • Grade 2 buildings are the most common type of listed building, and are deemed to be of “special interest” to the public.

What alterations can you make to a listed building?

While it is possible to modify a listed building, there are many restrictions to the changes you can make. Owners must apply for listed building consent, which is required for all types of demolition, alteration or extension. Any change which affects the building’s overall appearance is illegal, unless approved by your local authority.

Routine repair work and general maintenance is allowed, as long as you use construction materials which are in keeping with those of the original structure. For instance, cement isn’t an option if the structure was made with something else. Careful repairs are also acceptable, provided that no damage happens to the interiors, while repainting is allowed if care is taken not to peel away any of the historical layers. You need to gain consent for removing interior walls, doors or windows, or demolishing any part of the original structure. You are able to rebuild features, expose brickwork, and install double-glazing with permission.

How to install a lift in your listed building

Abide by the Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, but this can be tricky for owners of listed buildings. It’s best to hire a disability access consultant to conduct a full audit of the space to assess any potential issues. Once this has been completed, you’ll need to decide how best to alter the building without interfering with its historical features. Special care must be taken to properly install any equipment, including lifts.

Consider the building’s architecture

Although altering a listed building can cause some concern over its value, Historic England is supportive of modifying them to include high-quality and architecturally-fitting disabled access. For example, a platform lift was carefully installed inside one of the turrets of Blickling Hall, causing no damage to its internal structure.

Passenger lifts or platform lifts are more suited to listed buildings, provided they are installed in less sensitive parts of the structure, like near secondary staircases or in areas that have already been altered. The pits and openings for lift shafts should also be carefully considered to prevent loss or damage to historical interiors, archaeological remains and decorative surfaces. Historic England notes that the size of a lift car has to be large enough to hold any type of wheelchair—a lift measuring 2000mm by 1400mm deep will provide access to most scooters, and enable wheelchairs to turn 180 degrees. Platform lifts can also be carefully installed without damaging a property.

Here at Premier Lift Group, we ensure that lifts can be seamlessly integrated into any building, and our experts are all compliant with construction regulations. For instance, one of our past briefs was to install a bespoke lift for wheelchair users at Lincoln’s Inn in London, which needed to be self-supporting and enhance the unique decor of the historic site. Listed as a Grade 1 structure, the planning permission for this lift installation took some time, but thanks to our extensive knowledge and experience, we were able to support and adapt construction plans to meet regulatory requirements.

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help your business.