A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, Cadw in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.
The term has also been used in Ireland, where buildings are surveyed for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in accordance with the country's obligations under the Granada Convention. However, the preferred term in Ireland is protected structure.
A listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority, which typically consults the relevant central government agency, particularly for significant alterations to the more notable listed buildings. In England and Wales, a national amenity society must be notified of any work to a listed building which involves any element of demolition.
Exemption from secular listed building control is provided for some buildings in current use for worship, but only in cases where the relevant religious organisation operates its own equivalent permissions procedure. Owners of listed buildings are, in some circumstances, compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so or if they perform unauthorised alterations. When alterations are permitted, or when listed buildings are repaired or maintained, the owners are often required to use specific materials or techniques.
Although most sites appearing on the lists are buildings, other structures such as bridges, monuments, sculptures, war memorials, and even milestones and mileposts and The Beatles' Abbey Road pedestrian crossing are also listed. Ancient, military, and uninhabited structures, such as Stonehenge, are sometimes instead classified as scheduled monuments and protected by much older legislation, whilst cultural landscapes such as parks and gardens are currently "listed" on a non-statutory basis.
Although a limited number of 'ancient monuments' were given protection under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882, there was reluctance to restrict the owners of occupied buildings in what they could do to their property. It was the damage to buildings caused by German bombing during World War II that prompted the first listing of buildings that were deemed to be of particular architectural merit. Three hundred members of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings were dispatched to prepare the list under the supervision of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, with funding from the Treasury. The listings were used as a means of determining whether a particular building should be rebuilt if it was damaged by bombing, with varying degrees of success. In Scotland the process slightly predated the war with the Marquess of Bute (in his connections to the National Trust for Scotland) commissioning the architect Ian Lindsay in September 1936 to survey 103 towns and villages based on an Amsterdam model using three categories (A, B and C).
The basis of the current more comprehensive listing process was developed from the wartime system and was enacted by a provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 covering England and Wales, and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947 covering Scotland. Listing was first introduced into Northern Ireland under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. The listing process has since developed slightly differently in each part of the UK.