The spirit of localism should mean that if local residents and their elected councillors wish to get rid of a hideous tower block spoiling the skyline they should be able to do so. However in some cases it is not possible because a block has been listed by English Heritage (now renamed Historic England).
There has been much rejoicing over the decision not to list the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar – it can now be knocked down.
But what of those eyesores that are listed? For instance the Park Hill flats in Sheffield (right) or the Trellick Tower in Kensington (left). Or Byker Wall in Newcastle (below right) or Keeling House in Tower Hamlets (bottom left)).
“Promote public understanding and enjoyment of the historic environment.”
It is hard to see how forcing the retention of eyesores (often with hefty repair bills) fits in with that brief. An organisation that should be trusted as an ally of beauty and tradition has betrayed that trust.
Listing buildings is not their only role. But for them to exercise such staggering poor judgement does cast doubt about their credibility more widely. For example they boast in their report for last year:
“We gave constructive conservation advice on 21,942 planning cases this year, focusing our advice on preserving the best of the past whilst exploring opportunities for positive and creative change.
“At Girton College, Cambridge, a new wing comprising 50 en-suite bedrooms opened and the College’s listed swimming pool was refurbished. This successful modern intervention received a RIBA regional award in 2014.”
The Girton College development looks awful – no surprise that RIBA gave it a prize.
This is a Quango which gets £100 million of taxpayers money a year – via the Department for Culture Media and Sport. But how accountable is it? Supposing, for instance, it was proposed to delist certain buildings (such as some of those illustrated here) in order that they could be demolised? What is the mechanism for that review?
“Once a building is listed. It stays listed.”
The spokesman later elaborated:
“Anyone can apply for a building to be de-listed and they can do that through an online application form. All buildings are listed based on their architectural and historical importance. To get a building de-listed, the applicant needs to prove that what made that building “listable” is no longer valid. It may be a place has been damaged and has lost the elements of the building that made it eligible for listing in the first place. Or it may be that the building has, for example, been wrongly attributed to an architect and if they can demonstrate our original research was wrong, it would also be considered for de-listing.”
That is unsatisfactory. If the decision was quite mad in the first place it should be ditched – even if the facts have not changed.