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DCMS listing reform set to 'threaten Modernist icons'

Government plans to radically restructure the UK's listing system will threaten some of Britain's greatest post-war architecture, conservationists have warned.

The AJ has learnt that Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, ordered a hush-hush 'Designation Review' in January, citing the 'problem of concrete council estates being listed' as her chief concern.

She is alarmed that entire swathes of post-war housing has or will be listed, slowing down the process of housing stock modernisation and the 'reduction of crime rates in sink estates'. However, Jowell also insisted the 'entire system' - including listed buildings, conservation areas and ancient monuments - is out of date and in need of wholesale changes.

'We all know about the problems that can arise from some of the current procedures for protecting, ' Jowell said. 'We need to reform these and make them work better for everyone while maintaining the same level of protection.We need a new approach, one that is more flexible, ' she added.

The Designation Review - to be carried out by former Government Office for the South East planning inspector Gillian Ashmore - will go to public consultation in July and is scheduled to become a draft White Paper in January 2004.

Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft warned that this could lead to widespread demolition of some 'great architecture'. She believes that, rather than listing these estates, the new system will turn them into 'a kind of conservation area' with a 'great deal less protection'.

'At the moment, when these housing estates are listed we can often say no to all sorts of development, ' she said. 'The DCMS seems keen to remove this veto'. And Croft added that the reform stems from ministerial discomfort with the trend of listing Modernist architecture, and a desire to preserve only Classical buildings.

However, English Heritage has backed the decision to shake up the system, claiming that there is no way 20th century architecture should be judged in the same way as older buildings.

'A single regime cannot deal with a building such as Centre Point, St Paul's Cathedral and a historic regeneration area such as Hoxton, ' EH chief executive Simon Thurley said. 'The issues are quite different.'

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