Property: Listed Buildings - Theory and Practice
France has a system of listing historic buildings similar
to (and based on) that in England. The Counterpart to English
Heritage is the commission régionale du patrimoine
historiqique, archéologique et ethnographique (COREPHAE),
presided over by the prefet of the region. "monuments historiques"
are buildings whose preservation are in the public interest
from a historical or artistic point of view. (This corresponds
to grade 1 listing in the UK). A less important building,
the preservation of which is merely "desirable" can be "inscrit"
in the inventaire supplementaire des monuments historiques.
(This corresponds to grade 2 listing in the UK). Listed buildings
in the Languedoc range from prehistoric megoliths, through
the so called Cathar Castles, to relatively recent structures.
In theory the architects of the Bâtiments de France
are there to help the owners of important historic buildings
to preserve them. They like original materials to be used
in restoration work. This means for example using lime instead
of cement, local stone rather than brick, wooden beams rather
than RSJ's, and so on. This is all very reasonable. Also in
theory, substantial grants are available, specialist architects
are on hand to provide expert advice, and there are significant
tax advantages for expenditure on listed buildings.
The practice is rather different. From the evidence of the
Bâtiments de France in Carcassonne, it exists solely
to employ functionaires, to delay work, and incur additional
costs for the owners. Here is a personal view from the Aude
be ideal suited to the Bâtiments de France, since
our intention was to use traditional materials and traditional
techniques for everything, even employing stonemasons and
When we bought
our property it was not listed. It had been falling
into ruins for centuries, had been knocked about to
accommodate farm machinery, vandalised and used as quarry
for stone for new houses. As soon as we bought it, and
it was finally safe, we were notified that it was to
be listed. At that stage, we still thought this was
a good idea, but as they pointed out our opinion did
not matter as they had the power to list it anyway.
We had a unstable
internal wall that they said was in imminent danger
of collapse. They said it had to be attended to immediately.
We said we'd start the next day. "Oh no. You can't do
that without permission". We then waited six months
(the statutory maximum) for them to provide permission.
Of the many
functionnaires who come for a day out to see the property
not a single one has ever read the file on it, so we
have to spend a day each time explaining things to them.
None has ever contributed a scintilla of useful advice
or expertise. Sometimes they will simply not turn up
to appointments - no explanation or apology - even though
we paid for an architect based in Paris to come along
for the day to talk to them.
We were obliged
to put drainage in the courtyard. We fixed a start date,
at which they announced that we could not start without
an archaeological study in case there was anything of
interest under the courtyard. This was to cost about
4000 Euros which we would have to pay. The archaeologist
came, used a mechanical digger to make a few holes,
then went away to write a report that said nothing that
we had not told him. Clearing up by hand after his departure
we discovered that he had torn up the original surface
of the courtyard, and destroyed the wall of a ancient
pit, without noticing either.
These are just a couple of examples
- both entirely typical of their approach. Our experience
was in the Aude
département. Beware their are many much worse
stories elsewhere, so think carefully before buying a property
that is, or might be, listed. It will cost you tens of thousands
or hundreds of thousands Euros extra, and if your experience
is like ours you will not have seen a centime in grants
after ten years. "
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