Historic property owners – understanding the importance of curtilage

What is curtilage and why is it important?

It is important because, generally, applicants cannot build separate residential units within the curtilage of a listed building. This differs to building within the setting of a listed building, explained in this website blog; now let’s address curtilage. Curtilage is a key contributor to a heritage asset’s significance.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines curtilage as:

“A small court, yard, garth or piece of ground attached to a dwelling-house and forming one enclosure with it, or so regarded by the law; the area attached to and containing a dwelling-house and its outbuildings.”

“Curtilage can be defined, for the purposes of the listed building legislation, as an area of land around a listed building within which other buildings pre-dating July 1948 may potentially be considered listed. Not all buildings will have a curtilage. With those that do there will be cases where the extent of the curtilage will be clear (such as a garden boundary) but in others it may not be as clear and each case will always be a question of fact and degree.

A decision-taker may take the following factors into account in assessing the matter:

  • the physical layout of the listed building and the building;
  • their ownership, past and present; and
  • their use or function, past and present, specifically whether the building was ancillary (i.e. subordinate to and dependent on) the purposes of the listed building at the date of listing” (Historic England 2018).

The legal position

Curtilage, as it relates to listed buildings, was initially introduced in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1968 and clarified by the Planning Act of 1990 (for Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas), which is now the primary legislation governing the legal issues about curtilage.

Section 1(5) of the Act of 1990 focuses on the listed building as the principal building and clarifies that any object or structure fixed to a listed building or any object or structure within the curtilage of the building which, although not fixed to the building, forms part of the land and has done so since before l July 1948 is treated as part of the building.

The Planning Act (for Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) of 1990 protects curtilage structures. Experience has taught me that it is important to check the dates of listing and related use, layout and ownership at the time of listing, to establish what is and is not curtilage-listed.

This is key, ensure you answer this question – what was the arrangement of use, layout and ownership at the time of listing?

Understanding the implications

The past and present use, layout and ownership are also important but establishing the situation on the date of listing is a key legal consideration. An experienced heritage consultant can represent you and demonstrate how new buildings can revitalise the historic setting while conserving significance.

At High Street, Meldreth, South Cambridgeshire for example, boundaries old and new needed to be taken into consideration and accurately assessed.


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