Following on from our recent blog about listed buildings, we are often asked whether asbestos is a risk in listed buildings, given that they often pre-date the widespread use of asbestos in the construction of buildings.

Asbestos has been commercially mined since the mid 19th century.  Its excellent properties as an insulation material and a fire retarder were quickly acknowledged within the building trade and it was used widely in many different applications until 1999, when its use in the UK was banned.  Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can degrade over time and can pose a risk to those people looking after or visiting buildings that contain them.

A brief overview of the duty to manage asbestos

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulation 2012 anyone who is responsible for a building built before the year 2000 being used either as:

  • non-domestic premises; or
  • for domestic purposes that contains common parts (such as blocks of flats)

must take reasonable steps to identify and determine the location of all ACMs.  If ACMs are identified, a register of the location, type and condition of the ACMs identified must be kept; the risk posed by the ACMs must be ascertained and any requisite remedial action undertaken; and a management plan must be put in place for any ACMs which remain in situ, including informing anyone who is likely to come in contact with the ACMs to prevent disturbance and exposure as far as practically possible.

The Health and Safety Executive website is a great source of information on this subject.  If you are in doubt as to whether you are responsible for managing the asbestos risk of a building, the following link has a useful table to help you determine whether a duty to manage exists:

Heritage buildings classification

It is generally considered that the best way to maintain heritage buildings is for their use to continue, whether it is as a visitor attraction, a home or some commercial use such as offices.  The condition of any building that is left unoccupied will start to deteriorate, putting its long-term future at risk.  The continued use of heritage buildings helps prevent against this.

Buildings are protected by law by listing them as special architectural or historic interest under Section 1 of the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.  Any works that are likely to affect the fabric of the building need to have “Listed Building Consent” before they start.  Local planning authorities can refuse consent of any works unless it can be demonstrated that the harm or loss that will be sustained by the listed building is necessary to achieve substantial public benefit that outweighs that of harm or loss to the heritage value.

Presence of ACMs in listed buildings

Whilst the vast majority of pre-1800s buildings would not have had any ACMs at the time they were built.  With the introduction of central heating systems and electricity though, large numbers of old properties had ACMs installed as part of their modernisation.  It should therefore be presumed that any pre-2000 building, regardless of its age, will contain ACMs in some form.

The real challenge is to maintain the historic identity of listed buildings whilst safeguarding those working on and visiting them.  Damage to such sites increases the potential risk of any ACMs present being disturbed, with the risk of ACMs being in poor condition increasing even further at deteriorating and derelict sites.

Tension can arise between the conservation of listed buildings and that of the health and safety aspects of managing asbestos. Intervention in order to create a risk free environment can cause harm to heritage values.  The two statutory requirements do need to be considered in proportion and it should not be assumed that one will prevail over the other.  Any asbestos management work should therefore only be undertaken after consultation with both conservation officers and asbestos management specialists.

When purchasing a listed building with Farleys, our experienced conveyancing solicitors will advise you on whether an asbestos management survey is required for its existing or proposed use and your ongoing legal obligations following completion.

Get in touch with Farleys’ property team on 0845 287 0939 or email us today.