Buildings and architecture mean any kind of building or structure erected or constructed in the area, whether it is functional, ordinary or vernacular, or especially designed.

The area covered on this page is the Unitary Authority of York which comprises the City of York, an undefined Green Belt and surrounding villages.  The buildings and structures of these places together form the ‘built environment’ – that is the context in which architecture and new building is designed, and to which it contributes.  See this page to read Dr Jane Grenville’s description of York’s special character.

The built environment of an area may be historic or not;  ‘designated’ (see below) or undesignated.  Here are definitions taken from the ,National Planning Policy Framework published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in March 2012.

Historic environment:  All aspects of the environment resulting from the interaction between people and places through time, including all surviving physical remains of past human activity, whether visible, buried or submerged, and landscaped and planted or managed flora.

Heritage asset:  A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).


Designated heritage assets include Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas.


The Secretary of State has been required since 1947 both to compile and keep under review lists of “buildings of special architectural or historic interest”. The buildings can be chosen because of their age, architectural style, historical interest, connection with a famous person etc. or because they form part of a group of buildings which have architectural value as a whole.  In general most buildings built before 1840 are listed if they retain their original form.  However, many buildings built since 1840 and some built after 1939 are listed if they are of quality.

The effect of Statutory Listing is to protect buildings from demolition or from unsympathetic and inappropriate alteration , either internal or external.

It is a criminal offence to carry out alteration work to a Listed Building without obtaining consent.

Any work which is deemed to affect the character of a Listed Building will require Listed Building Consent. This consent may be required in addition to any other planning or building regulation approvals.  The Listed Building description of any building or structure on the Statutory List, which is to be the subject of any kind of work, should be consulted.  Listed Building descriptions record certain salient information including:

Building type

Date of construction

Architect’s name, if known  and any distinguished name associated with the structure;

Material used in the construction of the building or structure

Plan form or type;

Façade:  descriptions of elevations (where visible) from front to rear, to left return, and right return

Interior description including surviving original fixtures and fittings;

Supplementary information such as attached features

Historic information if known

Extra, site specific information

Sources of the above eg published source material

This list can be remembered by the mnemonic BDAMPFISHES!

Statutory Lists of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest are accessible from City of York Council, or on this Heritage Gateway website Heritage Gateway.


Locally listed features are important heritage assets that contribute to our area’s special local architectural and historic character, are representative of locally distinctive features, and are valued by the local community.  Local Heritage assets can include buildings, structures, sites, places, and areas or landscapes.  The effect of Local Listing is different from Statutory Listing but inclusion on the Local List for York will be a material consideration in planning decisions.  The draft Local List for York is at


Local Authorities are required to designate Conservation Areas – areas which “are of special architectural or historic interest, the character and appearance of which it is desirable to conserve or enhance”. The main effect of this designation is to protect against unsympathetic and inappropriate alterations and to ensure consent is required for the demolition, or part demolition, of buildings within its boundaries. Local Authorities also have a duty to prepare proposals for the conservation and enhancement of their Conservation Areas.

The definition of ‘Conservation’ given in the National Policy Planning Framework for heritage policy is “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains and, where appropriate, enhances its significance.”


Advice on the type of planning consent required for all applications should be sought from City of York Council (see contacts below).

Design Considerations

The starting point is the environment into which new building, whether it is a new structure or an addition to an existing one, will be introduced.  The first requirement for a design will therefore be to become familiar with the building’s context, through site visits and walkabouts to identify features and characteristics which are distinctive to the place. These characteristics are likely to include:

  • the local environment or setting, whether urban or rural;
  • type of local building – domestic, commercial, functional;
  • building density;

–   the height and size of buildings;

  • materials most commonly used;
  • style – vernacular or designed.

It is important not to be misled by the external appearance of an historic building; they frequently hide an earlier building behind their exterior.  The Listed Building description may include details of important surviving interior features.

Sources of Advice and Information

The starting point is the City of York Council planning website, Application forms and guidance notes may be downloaded here.  Enquiries will be dealt with in person at the Directorate of City Strategy in the City of York Council offices.  Preliminary advice may be sought there from officers in the Design, Conservation and Sustainability section.

In addition, in villages local help and advice may be sought from the Clerk to the Parish Council.

It is recommended that for work on listed buildings and in conservation areas, an architect qualified and experienced in working in the historic environment should be engaged.  The names of such architects may be obtained from the usual directory sources such as the Yellow Pages.


The following documents relating to York’s historic environment should be consulted:

The National Heritage List for England is a searchable database of all nationally designated heritage assets including Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments, Registered Parks and Gardens, Registered Battlefields and Protected Wreck Sites.  You should consult their description of all the Listed Buildings as held by Historic England .

The Local List at

Conservation area descriptions, appraisals and management plans;

Village Design Statements;

York Design Awards.  The Civic Trust is one of the partners in this campaign. Design Awards

The following published books may be of assistance:

Hutchinson, J & Palliser, David M; Bartholomew City Guides:  York;  Edinburgh, 1980

Nuttgens, Patrick, ed. The History of York from Earliest Times to the Year 2000;  Blackthorn Press, 2001

Pevsner, Niklaus and Neave, David; The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: York and East Riding; Penguin Books, 2nd edn., 1995

Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England:  An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, in five authoritative volumes published by HMSO:

Volume I, Eboracum;  1962. Volume II, The Defences, 1972, Volume III, South-west of the Ouse, 1972, Volume IV, Outside the City Walls, East of the Ouse, 1972, Volume V, The Central Area, 1981.

York Conservation Trust;  Historical Properties Walking Guide:  York, 2010

Ordnance Survey maps are a useful source of information on development of the city and its villages. Maps are available at city libraries and York Explore.

The first Ordnance Survey map of York, published in 1852, is available online in a very high resolution at

Alison Sinclair, 2012

Here are some other websites which you might find helpful:

York Georgian Society, which specialises in the eighteenth century.

Borthwick Institute for Archives at the Universiity of York

The Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society.  YAYAS is a membership organisation, whose publications since the nineteenth century have illuminated York’s history

York Conservation Trust, which owns many significant buildings in York

York City Archives  This rich record has recently been moved to a new location

Historic England

York Consortium for Conservation and  Craftmanship. which preserves and promotes the skills used in building historic structures

The archives available at Historic England

British History Online which includes the Victoria County History of York, and old OS maps

Image: Norman doorway on St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate (now the National Centre for Early Music).