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Comment: English Heritage defends its Broadgate listing stance

Despite today’s defeat, English Heritage’s designation team leader Emily Gee maintains its decision to recommend Broadgate Square for Grade II* listing was the right one

Last week, AJ editor Christine Murray challenged English Heritage’s (EH) listing recommendation of Broadgate Square and criticised the popular discussion prompted by this high profile case.  

More intelligent, knowledgeable debate about the merits of 1980s architecture would indeed be welcome. While we are used to considering buildings that are only just coming into the scope of the listing process, assessing this decade is cutting edge for us, too. However, we are absolutely clear about the special qualities of Arup Associates’ Broadgate Square (1985-7) designed under the direction of Peter Foggo and possessing an architectural pedigree that I am sure many of readers will respect. Our recommendation to the DCMS can be read here and is also attached(see right). I encourage people to read this report, rather than form a view from the press coverage that has surrounded the case.

We can’t always carry out our assessments from the cool distance of historical hindsight: some cases are too recent for that.  With Broadgate, the developers themselves asked for a Certificate of Immunity from listing. In doing so, they knew that this would require us to undertake a thorough evaluation of these buildings’ architectural and historical significance and make a recommendation to the Department. We considered that it was right to consider Broadgate Square as one architectural entity, rather than just looking at the parts of it affected by the planning application. The later, SOM-designed phases of Broadgate are outside our scope. Following extensive consultation and research, we concluded that the significance was so compelling we could only advise listing at Grade II*. 

With regard to the Make scheme, EH responded that the City should determine the application as they saw fit, but in the City’s full knowledge of the ongoing listing assessment; the outcome of which they knew could affect their planning decision.  We strongly reject the suggestion that our recommendation is an attempt to circumnavigate the planning system and the case history bears this out – a Certificate is a legitimate developers tool in the planning system (indeed, we consider about 20 each year, and in 90% of cases advise that it should be granted).  The assertion that we have deliberately tried to frustrate a development is to overlook the timings of the case and to confuse EH’s two distinct roles as the Government’s adviser on designation and as a planning advisory body, both of which we have fulfilled with integrity.

Listed status has an important role to play in the planning process, but the law requires the Minister’s decision on listing (and EH’s recommendations) to be made without regard to planning matters and on the basis of historic and architectural significance alone.  The tried and tested principle is to first assign significance to the historic environment; the second considers how heritage values should be taken into account.  We cannot let an extremely delicate planning situation blur our view that the buildings, sculptures and landscape of this masterfully designed place in the City merit special attention within the planning process.

Listing would by no means prevent change to these inherently flexible buildings, nor might it even prevent demolition if the right tests were met. EH is charged with identifying and protecting the very best architectural achievements. In our view, Broadgate Square is a triumph of late-twentieth century urbanism and it deserves recognition.

Emily Gee, Designation team leader, London and South East, English Heritage (written prior to Jeremy Hunt’s decision today - 15 June)


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