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City warns of conflict of interest in listings review

The Corporation of London is urging the government not to hand responsibility for listings to English Heritage.

In its official response to the radical shake up of the listings system, outlined in July, the corporation has warned against proposals to increase the role of the heritage body.

CABE has also expressed concern that the proposals would elevate EH to 'both prosecutor and judge' and is calling for substantial checks and balances. Public consultation on the proposals closes tomorrow (Friday).

In its official response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the corporation's head planner Peter Rees warned of a conflict of interest if EH becomes responsible for both maintaining the list and directing decisions on consents.

He rejects proposals for an independent committee within EH to decide on designation, stressing this 'should rest with the Secretary of State, taking advice from EH', and calls for local planning authorities to retain responsibility for issuing works consents.

A shift in responsibility away from local planning authorities 'would not only be at the expense of local accountability and control but could also lead to less flexibility for owners and developers', he predicts.

The corporation has a history of hostility towards EH, last year calling on the government to curb its powers and consider merging it with CABE (AJ 17.01.02).

CABE's chief executive Jon Rouse also told the AJ he had serious misgivings about the proposals, which would 'strengthen EH's hand within the planning system', giving it the power to threaten to list where it disapproved of development.

'There are real risks in giving it to EH, but a real problem finding an alternative and how it would work, ' Rouse said. 'In an ideal world there would be an independent statutory committee to manage listings.'

However, problems managing case loads and handling appeals would rule out that solution and the 'pragmatic' answer would be for EH to take over listings with an independent committee - drawing on expertise lacking within the DCMS - to hear appeals. Further safeguards would include responsibility for policy to remain with the minister.

Rouse has also called for the inclusion of a third criterion for designation on 'the value of that building in social terms for the local community', and for a third party right of appeal for local authorities.

Other bodies feeding into the consultation process include the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), district and county councils, and civic trusts. The RIBA was still formulating its response as the AJ went to press.

The DCMS plans to prepare a White Paper for the spring, but Rouse urged the government to leave enough time to 'get this right and not rush into it'.

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