Check out our Directory of Traditional Building Skills

You are here: Home > Advice & Guidance

Advice & Guidance

Have a question about built heritage? In this section UAH gives answers to frequently asked questions FAQS and gives more in depth information on certain topics relating to built heritage through dedicated guidance notes.

You may also like visit our Case Studies section for details of individual heritage buildings and projects. Or Funding section for information on potential sources of funding. If you are seeking a craftsman or heritage professional to help with a project visit the Directory of Traditional Building Skills for a selection of those working in historic building conservation.

What is a Listed Building?

‘Listed’ buildings are those designated through listing as being of ‘special architectural or historical interest’ under Section 80 of the Planning Act (NI) 2011. Such buildings are assigned to The Buildings Database, a list containing records of buildings which have been judged to be of enough architectural or historic interest to merit a survey by the department. The register is kept by Historic Environment Division and is available online at

As well as conventional buildings, the list may include man-made objects or structures not normally considered as buildings, for example tombstones, telephone kiosks, post boxes, gates, war memorials, bridges docks and other industrial structures.

What is Listed Building Consent (LBC)?

Listed Building Consent is a planning application process whereby the Historic Environment Division is required to be consulted on any alteration affecting the character of the structure of a listed building – either to the exterior, the interior or structures within its curtilage, including the fixing of advertisements or signs.

Listed building consent (items with the suffix /LBC) is a separate consent from planning permission (or a reference with the suffix /F) and is not a substitute for planning consent.

Does Listing Just Protect the Facade?

No, although this is unfortunately a common misconception. When a building is listed as being of special architectural or historic interest the whole building is listed, both inside and out. Sometimes elements of its setting, adjoining walls, gates and railings, are also listed as part of the curtilage.

Can I Nominate a Building for Listing?

Any member of the public may nominate a building for listing to the Department at any time, if it is not already listed on the Buildings Database first. Such requests will generate a ‘listing query’ a visit from a departmental architect.  This initial assessment will decide if there is sufficient cause to commission detailed research.

The Department prioritises its listing activity on a holistic area based survey (The Second Survey). If one off potential listings are identified, this work will be prioritised based upon a risk assessment. For this reason it is important to support any requests with the maximum of information on the structure you are proposing and on any threats it may face.

What is a Building at Risk (HARNI)?

A Building at Risk is an underused or vacant listed building which the Department considers to be at risk and has placed on the Heritage at Risk Northern Ireland (HARNI) Register.

What is the Heritage at Risk (HARNI) Register?

This is the register of buildings at risk currently maintained by UAHS, by our Heritage at Risk Officer for Northern Ireland, in partnership with the Historic Environment Division (HED) at the Department for Communities.  Search the HARNI Register here:

What is Spot Listing or Building Preservation Notice (BPN)?

Spot listing is the temporary listing of building for a period of six months. This power can only be used if it appears to Belfast City Council that a building is of special architectural or historic interest; and is in danger of demolition or of alteration in such a way as to affect its character as a building of such interest.

Any requests for spot listing must be supported by a clear statement of any perceived threat, and as much historical and other supporting information as possible.

The mechanism of applying a spot listing is through the issues of Building Preservation Notices (BPNs). Previously such notices were issued by the Department, but Belfast City Council now retains powers to spot list.

BPNs allow councils to temporarily list a building for a period of six months (sometimes referred to as ‘spot listing’) while surveys and consultations are carried out.

What is a Local Listing?

A local list is a register of buildings which are not protected through designation. Such buildings are known as “non designated heritage assets”.

Buildings making up such lists are also known as “Community Listed Buildings”

Local lists are lists of buildings which are of architectural and historical interest but which do not possess the ‘special interest’ required to merit statutory listing.

Councils should weigh up the impact of any application which either directly or indirectly impacts on a non designated heritage asset, and determine whether it causes any harm or loss to the asset.

Council has discretionary powers to draw up a local list and bespoke policies for non designated heritage assets.

What is a Buildings Preservation Trust?

A Building Preservation Trust (BPT) is an organisation whose main aims include the preservation and regeneration of historic buildings. BPTs normally have charitable status.

There are around 18 BPTs in Northern Ireland. Their activities can include the acquisition, preservation, reuse or onward sale of an individual building or types of building. Trusts that work on a number of simultaneous or successive projects are known as revolving fund trusts.  BPTs operating in Belfast include, Hearth Revolving Fund, Belfast Buildings Trust, Templemore Users Trust and the Ulster Historic Churches Trust.

Guidance and advice on setting up BPTs is available from the Association of Preservation Trusts NI (contact details in Section 6).

What is a Conservation Area?

These are areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. Conservation areas are protected through legislation by the Department under the Planning Act (NI) 2011.

Currently there are 14 conservation areas within Belfast Metropolitan Area. Over 60 in Northern Ireland.

Design guidance is published for each designated Conservation Area to inform planning decisions.

What is Conservation Area Consent?

A separate consent in addition to planning permission is required for demolition in conservation areas. This is known as Conservation Area Consent and alternatively as “consent for demolition in a Conservation Area” and applications carry the suffix /DCA.

Section 105 of the Planning Act (NI) 2011 requires that ‘where any area is for the time being designated as a conservation area special attention shall be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing its character or appearance’.

What is an Area of Townscape Character (ATC)?

An Area of Townscape Character is an area that has not been recognised as having distinctive character, but not sufficient to warrant Conservation Area status. However, because of their own unique identity it may be appropriate to identify and define these as Areas of Townscape or Village Character.

Within Belfast Metropolitan area alone, as at September 2015, 49 Areas of Townscape Character were listed.

Local policies or proposals and guidance for such areas should also be included, either in the plan or, where appropriate, in the form of supplementary planning guidance.

What are Historic Parks, Gardens and Demesnes?

The Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Archive contains a comprehensive record of over 700 historic parks, gardens and demesnes. The register is maintained by the Historic Environment Division and can be accessed via the department’s website.

Councils should bring forward local policies or proposals for the protection of the overall character and integrity of these distinctive areas.

What are Archaeological Sites and Monuments?

These are built remains of regional importance which consist of individual monuments, those in state care, and wider areas of archaeological interest:

Only 1800 historic monuments in Northern Ireland are scheduled at March 2009 from a total of approximately 35,000 known sites across Northern Ireland.

Development plans should designate Areas of Significant Archaeological Interest (ASAIs)

Where the impact of a development proposal is unclear, the Department will require developers to provide a report in the form of an Archaeological Assessment and Evaluation

Archaeological Mitigation measures for work to archaeological sites include: preservation of remains in situ (for which there is a presumption), licensed excavation, recording examination and archiving of archaeological finds.

Sites and Monuments are protected under The Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. They are selected from criteria published in PPS6 and include sites dating from 7000BC to the 20th century, such as prehistoric tombs, castles, maritime sites, canals, WW2 defences and the Belfast Shipyard ‘Samson and Goliath’ crane


a) Scheduled Monuments

These include tombs, ring forts, historic and vernacular buildings, planned parklands, buildings and features associated with industrial heritage. Monuments in private hands are scheduled for protection through legislation and the requirement for Scheduled Monument Consent which is required for applications which affect these remains.

Other factors determining archaeological significance include: appearance within the landscape or townscape including landmark status, quality folklore/historical interest and association with a person or event in local tradition or legend, group value, or rarity.


b) Monuments in State Care

Archaeological monuments may be taken into government care and are called Monuments in State Care. These are protected and managed as a public asset by the Department for Communities.


c) Areas of Significant Archaeological Interest (ASAI)?

An area of special archaeological interest is the overall setting of a significant area within which a number of individual and related monuments or historic landscapes are located.

The potential effect of proposals on specific sites and their settings, as well as on the integrity, or the overall character of the area, are a major consideration in determining applications for development.

Areas of archaeological potential and other terms such as area of high archaeological potential or urban archaeological zone are terms used to identify parts of the city where it is known that buried archaeology is likely to survive. They are primarily created and used in the planning process to act as triggers that can alert planning officers to possible archaeological disturbance caused by proposed new development. They are often marked out on GIS databases and any application for development within them is likely to be referred to the archaeologist for comment and advice.

Sites of archaeological interest are contained in the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record (NISMR). Any site on the register is defined as a Site of Archaeological Interest.

Development in an area of archaeological potential is likely to require archaeological evaluation and possible mitigation work in advance of building commencing. The areas are selected through study of past excavation work and historical and academic sources including the Sites and Monuments Record.

What is a World Heritage Site?

A world heritage site is a cultural or natural site of outstanding universal value. The World Heritage Convention was adopted by UNESCO in 1972 and governs World Heritage Sites.  UNESCO provides for the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of cultural and natural sites of outstanding universal value and maintains a World Heritage List under the management of an intergovernmental World Heritage Committee.  Individual governments are responsible for the nomination of sites for inclusion on the List and their subsequent protection and monitoring if selected.

UNESCO published guidance on the benefits of world heritage site designation, in the 2012 publication “Benefits beyond borders,” focusing on the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage Sites in the context of sustainable development”

At the moment there is one World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland: the Giant’s Causeway based on its unique cultural heritage and natural and geological interest.

What is a Tree Preservation Order?

A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is a statutory protection afforded to trees under the Planning Act (NI) 2011, Section 3.

Paragraph 124 of the Act gives the Department powers to make tree preservation orders for the purpose of protecting trees considered to be of special value in terms of amenity, history, rarity, which may or may not be under threat. It also has powers to ensure the continuance of a woodland area by securing the replanting of trees where this is considered necessary.

Trees in Conservation Areas are protected through planning legislation. The extent of protection is as if a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is in place.  DOE has published guidance “A guide to Protected Trees” available online at

Who Works to Protect Heritage in Northern Ireland?

What Role Does UAH Play?

What Role do Local Councils/Authorities Play?

What Role do Government Bodies Play?

What Role Can you Play?

How do I Find Out if a Building is Listed?

How do I Find Out if a Building is on the Heritage at Risk Register?

The register can be searched on this link

Alternatively the Historic Environment Map Viewer has a Heritage at Risk layer which shows the locations of all the heritage at risk buildings across Northern Ireland. Link to Historic Environment Map Viewer –

What is Designation?

Designation is a recognition of a building, monument or site’s significance, intended to make sure that the character of the asset in question is protected through the planning system and allow it to be passed on to future generations.

The most commonly known form of designation is listing, as in listed buildings, but there are three other types of designation: scheduling, registering and protecting. These are determined by the type of asset concerned.

Designation is the term given to the practice of listing buildings, scheduling monuments, registering parks, gardens and battlefields, and protecting wreck sites. These are collectively known as designated assets. Designation highlights what is significant about an asset and helps to make sure that any future changes made to it do not result in the loss of its significance.

What is a Vernacular Building?

The simplest definition of a vernacular building is that it is “of its place”.

Vernacular buildings reflect local building traditions, often built using materials from the locality. Generally they are not architect-designed structures, and their form and design may reflect local folk traditions.

They are typical of a common type of building in a particular locality and generally predate 1925.

While not necessarily listed, they have a natural place in towns, villages and smaller settlements and help to bring personality and local distinctiveness.

Councils may wish to bring forward local policies to promote their sympathetic rehabilitation or to prevent them from falling into disuse.

The last remaining vernacular building was a thatch building on the Antrim Road, since demolished. Sometimes the red brick terraces of Belfast are known as “urban vernacular”.

What is a Heritage Asset?

A heritage asset is a shorthand for a range of man-made structure of architectural or historic interest which make up our historic environment.

Heritage assets include buildings and landscapes, buried remains and historic areas.  Some but not all of these have statutory protection as listed buildings or scheduled monuments. Others are included in designated conservation areas, historic parks and gardens, World Heritage Sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

What is a Historic Building?

The term historic building applies generally to buildings of heritage interest, including listed and non-listed structures, and buildings in conservation areas and areas of townscape character and non-listed vernacular buildings.


Funds for projects relating to the repair or regeneration of historic buildings may be identified through streams relating to: heritage; arts & culture; community development and the environment.  Every project is unique, availability of funding can be competitive and sources will dependent on whether a building is in the ownership of a private owner, a private developer or a building preservation or charitable trust. Key to the progression of a funding proposal is the vision and ambition of the owner/group, including activities that are going to happen in the building; whether there is identifiable need for the project and whether proposals indicate a sustainable, long-term re-use.

UAH provides baseline advice on funding as part of the Heritage at Risk project, supported by and in partnership with Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities NI.

Funding: Find out more.


Regular conservation and maintenance is the most effective way to protect historic buildings from decay. The most common cause of damage is from water getting in, either from roofs, rainwater goods or exterior walls. A regular scheme of inspection at a property can help to identify risk areas and put plans in place for repairs before damage occurs.

UAH promotes maintenance as part of the Heritage at Risk project, supported by and in partnership with Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities NI.

Maintenance: Find out more.

Directory of Traditional Building Skills

A key element to any successful restoration project is to ensure that appropriate conservation works are carried out using the correct methods and most appropriate materials by qualified and experienced consultants.

The Directory of Traditional Building Skills draws together a wide selection of those working in the fields of historic building conservation, ranging from architects to quantity surveyors to specialist sub-contractors.

The Directory of Traditional Building Skills identifies and promotes the importance of traditional building skills in the conservation of historic buildings and hosts a variety of associated conservation specialists in Northern Ireland.

If you are a practitioner or crafts person that works with historic buildings and would like to be featured in the Directory, please contact the UAHS office or email: [email protected].

Directory: Find out more.

Roofing – Slating, Tiling & Thatch

Thatch is the traditional roofing material of Ireland and was almost universal in modest houses until the mid nineteenth century. Locally available split stone or slate was used but it was not until the widespread availability of cheap Welsh slate that the major changes occurred. Slate required little maintenance, was easily worked, attractive, and remained the main roofing material until very recent times. Widespread use of clay and concrete tiles has surpassed the use of slate but it remains the best material for repairs and extensions to old buildings.

Roofing- Slating, tiling & thatch: Find out more.

Roofing - Leadwork & Copper

Leadwork is still often carried out by a plumber, recalling the origin of the trade. But there are specialist leadwork companies in Northern Ireland who are capable of very high standard work. Lead is an extremely durable and flexible material but it does demand expertise. Good detailing and practice are essential to ensure excessive thermal movement does not open joints, sag flashings or stretch large flat sheets so that they split open.

Old buildings sometimes have complex roof structures with hidden gutters and valleys. Leaks are sources of problems which may be out of sight, while slow leaks saturate roof timbers and may lead to dry rot.

Roofing- Leadwork & Copper: Find out more.

Ironmongery & Metalwork

Early door and window furniture originated with the local craftsmen, blacksmiths and metal workers, and so are often unique to an area. Factory made ironmongery gradually evolved until the Victorian era when a complex variety of door and window fittings were mass produced. Many of these are again available as some firms specialise in exact reproductions of the original.Old door furniture can be restored and if the locks fail to match modern security requirements a discreetly placed deadlock can supplement them without interfering with the character. Replacement ironmongery and fittings must be chosen carefully to match the period of the building.

Ironmongery & Metalwork: Find out more.


Of all building elements, windows, doors, their fittings and embellishments can usually tell more of the history of a building than any other. Unfortunately many Georgian terraces, Victorian houses and Edwardian villas have had their picture rails, deeply moulded skirtings and architraves removed, but fashions change and many people now want to restore some of the character of their buildings.Wood is still the most versatile construction material known and for interior fittings is unsurpassed. Good joiners can make anything from a drawing, a scrap of the original or even a photograph.

Joinery: Find out more.

Plasterwork & Renders

Until the 1930s lime based plasters were standard and so most old buildings are plastered internally with three coat lime plaster, either directly onto the brick or stone (on the hard) or on horizontal laths on timber framing or joists. The backing coats were generally reinforced with hair or vegetable fibres (fibrous plaster) especially the fine, run (made in situ) cornices which were common even in modest buildings. Decorative plasterwork of the eighteenth and nineteenth century can be quite stunning.

Plasterwork & Renders: Find out more.

Glass & Glazing

Technical advances in the production of glass influenced the development of window design. Early blown glass was replaced by spun glass in the eighteenth century and is still to be found in many historic buildings. It is characterised by irregularities, bubbles and defects. Modern sheet or plate glass, developed by the nineteenth century is largely free from such defects and so is no match for historic glass. Spun glass is becoming increasingly valuable and period glass is now available; for vernacular buildings agricultural glass may be used.

Glass & Glazing: Find out more.

Tiles & Tiling

Although pounded earth floors were still common in rural vernacular houses until recent times, it is more usual to find slabs of stone, slate, marble and clay ‘quarry’ tiles laid on ground floors in halls, kitchens and sculleries. Boarded timber floors on joists were found in the more ‘important’ rooms and on the upper floors.

Original tiled floors add great character to a building, but because they are often laid directly onto the earth, they can be damp and cold. The comfort level can be transformed and the appearance retained by lifting the tiles and re-laying them over a damp proof membrane and rigid insulation on a concrete screed. New and salvaged slate and quarry tiles are available. Laying old tiles may be more costly than putting down modern materials because, like many natural products they may be irregular in shape and thickness, but the quality and look of the finished floor should repay this extra effort.

Tiles & Tiling: Find out more.


Paint has long been used for the decoration and protection of timber, metal and plaster coatings, and the correct specification is a complex task. Painted surfaces on old buildings will have been built up in many layers and careful stripping back of a small sample area will give clues to a building’s decorative history. There are specialists who can sample and analyse layers of historic paint and give advise on reproduction.  Caution must be taken when rubbing down old paintwork to avoid inhalation of toxic dust, particularly on timber, because of the former use of lead-based paints. Currently the use of lead paint is restricted by stringent Health and Safety regulations.

Paintwork: Find out more.


Perhaps in Ireland more than elsewhere, the hearth is the traditional centre of the house and even in more modern homes the fireplace is one of the most important architectural features. The fashion in the 1960s and ’70s to renovate and modernise, saw chimneys blocked and high quality marble, slate, cast iron and wood fire surrounds discarded. The present owners of many of these house now want to have a real fire and the greatest threat today is the theft and illegal sale of fireplaces to meet a growing demand.

Fittings: Find out more.

Remedial Works

Building repair technology has become increasingly complex in recent years and there is a confusing array of specialist systems designed to counteract rot, decay and damp. In many cases though, the temptation is to go for a technical solution when perhaps more basic, common-sense methods may be less destructive to the building’s fabric and occupants and equally effective. Retention of the maximum amount of original fabric must always be the guiding principle. Good remedial specialists should recommend the best system for each individual problem, but a few general guidelines may be useful.

Remedial Works: Find out more.


The introduction of any new services into an old building demands skill and sensitivity. Considerable ingenuity is required to conceal pipe and cable runs to avoid damaging plaster cornices and skirtings, whilst allowing for regular maintenance and access if something does go wrong. Carefully chosen positions for service entry points, soil vent pipes, over-flows and internal fittings such as smoke detectors, radiators and electrical sockets can make all the difference to the visual success of a project. In old buildings this is usually best worked out on site in collaboration with the builder or contractor.

Services: Find out more.

Specialist Surveys & Photography

An accurate and appropriate survey of any building is the basis for informed decision -making on a project and is usually the first step in establishing the nature and extent of the work required. Surveys range from simple recording in plan, section and elevation, to highly technical, non-destructive techniques to locate hidden problems.

For most buildings, a traditional, measured survey will be sufficient but care must be taken not to overlook important details. Few old buildings are true and square, and it should not be assumed that rooms are perfectly rectangular – a series of diagonal measurements will give an accurate picture of the real shape of the spaces, both internally and externally. When extensive work is planned, it is important to record the size, shape and location of all interior fittings such as skirtings, architraves, dadoes, cornices and other mouldings. Once demolitions commence it is easy to forget exactly where such items belong: labelling each piece of joinery as it is taken down helps to prevent mistakes later.

Specialist Surveys & Photography: Find out more.

How to look after your historic building?

Old buildings are more than bricks, stone, mud and mortar. In them we have material evidence of the past and a visual asset for the present and future. Inappropriate alteration or repair can cause great damage to the character and interest of these structures. Current legislation should prevent demolition and more extreme forms of alteration to the exteriors and interiors of listed buildings; but often minor works to listed buildings and major changes to unlisted historic structures are left to the owner’s discretion. In such cases an appreciation of the building and its construction and the use of appropriate repair techniques will be of particular importance. Professionals with the traditional skills needed to retain the character of old buildings should then be consulted.

How to look after your historic building? Find out more.

Masonry – Stone & Brick

Dressed, or finely cut, stonework is comparatively rare in Ireland; it was mainly used on grand houses, churches and public buildings. Many buildings are in rubble stone, often limewashed or rendered; however for the last hundred years brick has been the predominant material.

Unfortunately, through time some of the skills and appreciation of the demands in working with stone have been lost. In the recent past it was difficult to get the right advice, the right materials and the craftsmen to work sympathetically on stone. Now the climate has changed, there is a revival of interest and it is possible now to have good work carried out – there are no longer any excuses for botched repairs and alterations.

Masonry – Stone & Brick: Find out more.


Support the conservation, restoration and re-use of Ulster's built heritage.

Become a member
Case Studies
Gilford Mill, Dunbar McMaster Gilford, Co.Down View Project
Top Click to access the login or register cheese