Many older buildings in Ireland are legally protected in order to preserve their special character. Commonly known as ‘listed buildings’ or buildings with ‘preservation orders’, they are correctly termed Protected Structures and buildings located in Architectural Conservation Areas.

Below you can find out more about these designations and the advice and assistance offered to owners and occupiers. 

Protected Structures

A protected structure, sometimes known as a listed building or a building with a ‘preservation order’, is defined as a structure which a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view.

The protection automatically extends to all parts of the structure, including its exterior and interior, and potentially to the exterior and interior of any structures within the curtilage of the structure. There are over 40,000 Protected Structures in Ireland and over 8,000 in Dublin city.

Protected Structures are listed on each local authority's Record of Protected Structures (RPS). These structures enjoy protection under law as set out in Part IV of the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Dublin City Council's Record of Protected Structures can be viewed here.

Architectural Conservation Areas

An Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) is a place, area, group of buildings or townscape, which is deemed to be of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest.

An ACA may include a terrace of houses, a square, a group of buildings such as a mill complex, a street or a group of streets, that is of significant interest when looked at in totality.

The designation of an ACA means that certain external alterations to a building that affect the character of the ACA, such as replacement of doors and windows, cleaning brickwork, re-slating roofs and construction of extensions, may require planning permission. This applies even where the buildings are not protected structures and where the works involved would normally be classed as exempted development.

ACAs should not be confused with non-statutory ‘Conservation Areas’ which is a planning designation used in city and county Development Plans.

Dublin city presently has 23 statutory ACAs and these can be viewed here.

What does the designation mean – can I carry out alterations?

Protected Structure and ACA designations are designed to protect the essential character of what makes a building special or unique.

This commonly includes decorative features, original wall and roof materials, the shape and form of the building, and its siting within a wider streetscape or setting. The designations are not designed to preserve a building as a ‘museum-piece’ or to prevent modern services or living standards being accommodated. In fact, the guidance that accompanies the designations is specifically designed to accommodate change in a manner that preserves the character of these buildings for present and future generations.

Many myths abound around protection designations, such as ‘not being able to put a nail in the wall’ or preventing the changing of paint colours. This is simply untrue and misunderstandings about Protected Atructures and ACAs tend to persist where owners and occupiers do not engage with the local authority or its conservation officer. They are there to offer advice and assistance on repair, maintenance and any proposed changes, and should always be consulted for support and practical advice. Financial assistance is also available.

Record of Protected Structures

Planning authorities have specific powers for architectural heritage under Part IV of the Planning & Development Act, 2000, in the interests of proper planning and sustainable development. Each planning authority must include specific policy objectives in their Development Plan to protect structures or parts of structures of special interest and to preserve the character of Architectural Conservation Areas.

Local planning authorities are required to maintain a Record of Protected Structures (RPS) as part of their Development Plan and must include every structure which, in their opinion, is of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest. Additions or deletions to and from the RPS can take place at the Development Plan review stage, or during any interim period.

The RPS for each local authority is available on its website or at its public planning counter. Dublin City Council’s RPS is available here.

Planning authorities must follow certain procedures when proposing to add a structure to the RPS. These include notifying the owners and occupiers of the subject building as well as notifying the Minister for the Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, An Taisce, The Heritage Council and other prescribed bodies. Full protection of a Protected Structure applies once the planning authority notifies an owner or occupier of its intention to add the structure to the RPS. This temporary protection will apply for the full duration of the decision-making process.

Penalties can be imposed on owners or occupiers where they fail to meet their obligations and allow a Protected Structure to fall into disrepair or where they have failed to carry out works ordered by the planning authority. The penalty can take the form of a fine of up to €1 million and €12,000 per day for each day of a continuing offence and/or a term of imprisonment of up to five years.


Architectural Conservation Areas

You can find out if youR building is located in an ACA by checking your local authority Development Plan online, at the planning counter, or by contacting the council’s Conservation Officer. Many historic streets and terraces in town centres, as well as historic residential roads, are designated as ACAs in order to preserve civic identity and architectural character, so it is always worth checking before carrying out any works to your building.

Conservation Officer service + advice

Most local authorities employ a Conservation Officer to oversee the management of built heritage in their area. The Conservation Officer is an important point of contact for owners and occupiers of Protected Structures and buildings in ACAs, as well as old buildings that do not enjoy statutory protections. They can provide invaluable and free expert advice on maintaining an old building, and how to go about finding the right professional advice and trades when proposing to carry out works. Through the pre-planning process, they can also provide advice on how to lodge for planning permission or apply for a planning Declaration.

Dublin City Council's Conservation Officer service can be contacted here.


Under the planning system, special procedures apply when carrying out works to Protected Structures. Seemingly minor works which do not require planning permission in the case of unprotected structures (as they are classed as exempted developments), may require permission in the case Protected Structures as they may have a negative impact on the building’s character.

Works can only be carried out without planning permission where it is deemed that such works would not affect the character of the structure. Owners and occupiers of Protected Structures may therefore seek a Declaration from the planning authority as to the type of works which would or would not affect the character of a structure. It is recommended that owners and occupiers seek such a declaration even where they do not propose immediate works, as the declaration may assist in planning for future works, as well as ongoing maintenance of the structure.

A Section 5 Declaration can be sought for any building, protected or not, and will clarify whether a specific item of work may require planning permission. This is particularly useful where specific plans or proposals are being drafted for renovations or extensions.

A Section 57 Declaration can only be sought for a Protected Structure and is issued following a detailed inspection of the building by peronnel on behalf of the planning authority. This identifies the special qualities and elements that constitute the character of the structure. The Declaration will indicate the type of the works that would materially affect the character of the Protected Structure and therefore would require planning permission, as well as those works which would not affect the character of the structure and so would not require planning permission. Section 57 Declarations are free.

Are there grants available?

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage offers funding each year to local authorities to issue for grant-aided works to Protected Structures and buildings located in ACAs. Known as the Built Heritage Investment Scheme, the grant round is usually open for applications in the months of December and January. The grant round for 2021 has been allocated €3 million by central government and is now open until the extended deadline of Wednesday 24th February 2021. More information and an application form can be found online here: BHIS 2021

Grant aid typically requires 50% matching funds on the part of the owner/occupier and ranges between €2,500-€15,000 depending on the nature of the works. A pilot scheme for works of routine maintenance and minor repairs has also been introduced for 2021 with a maximum grant allocation per project of €2,500. All works must be undertaken to best conservation practice and must have all necessary planning permissions/exemption certifications in order to qualify.

The Historic Structures Fund, also operated by the Department, assists larger conservation projects through two funding streams, with grants offered in a €15,000 - €50,000 range for essential repairs and safeguarding capital works, and a €50,000 - €200,000 range for more substantial conservation and refurbishment projects that demonstrate a clear benefit to the public and community. Pilot schemes for vernacular buildings and historic shopfronts have also been introduced for 2021. Further information can be found online here: HSF 2021