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AJ exclusive: Q&A with new architecture minister John Penrose

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English Heritage, equalising VAT, Stonehenge and budget cuts: new architecture minister John Penrose answers the profession’s questions about his plans and priorities for the next five years

Your predecessor [Margaret Hodge] made no bones about her stance on post-war architecture. With Leeds University, the largest post-war listing since the Barbican, can we take it that you feel differently?Jon Wright, senior caseworker, The Twentieth Century Society

I wouldn’t characterise my architectural views either as staunchly traditionalist or fervently modernist. I like buildings from all periods and admire a range of different architectural styles, providing they’re high quality. As far as listing is concerned, the important thing is to focus on the evidence – I’ll be making decisions based on the architectural and historic interest of buildings, not on my own preferences or prejudices.

What discussions are going on about the future of English Heritage?Kate Pugh, chief executive, The Heritage Alliance

English Heritage, along with all DCMS’s arm’s-length bodies, has been asked to review all its activities as part of the wider government review. By doing this we want to establish what’s working and what isn’t for all of our bodies. We are looking at options to trim English Heritage costs without endangering the vital heritage assets that it’s responsible for. I’m afraid I can’t be more specific until the spending review is finished.

The previous minister sidestepped this question: what is your favourite building in the UK and why?Shaun Travers, director, Boon Brown Architects

Can I have two? Either the revamped Great Court at the British Museum, which is a great mix of old and new. Or, if I’m allowed to be biased, the rebuilt Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare. It may not be a Palladio or Gehry, but it’s a cherished and much-loved building in my local area. The renovation by Angus Meek Architects (pictured) is fantastic and the entire town is looking forward to its reopening.

What is your position about equalising VAT on work to new and existing buildings?George Ferguson, former president of
the RIBA

I’m afraid tax is a matter for Treasury ministers – they keep all taxes under review and any changes will be announced by the chancellor as part of the Budget process. But what I can say is that the most urgent priority is to tackle the record budget deficit to restore confidence in our economy and support the recovery. We must all live within our means.

How can the government realise the benefits of joining up departments so they can all participate with their respective hats, become ‘neighbours on the village green’, and create community/public space?Stuart Lipton of developer Chelsfield

I think the Big Society agenda is something that all departments are engaged in. And of course on our ‘village green’, so to speak, is Open Source Planning. It makes clear our approach for local communities to determine what and how they want their communities to look like, and not ‘big government’.

How can you have let Stonehenge [Visitor Centre] slip through your fingers and what are you going to do to get it back on track?Robin Nicholson, senior director, Edward Cullinan Architects

It wasn’t a question of letting it slip through my fingers. I’m afraid the ball had already been dropped by the last government, having spent all the money and run up huge debt. Like everyone else, I was tremendously disappointed that the funding was pulled. We remain committed to working with English Heritage and others to ensure the preservation and presentation of this unique site continues when the present difficulties have passed.

Do you subscribe to the World Class Places strategy and how will you be taking it forward?Anna Scott-Marshall, head of public affairs, RIBA

I am passionate about the role of architecture and well-designed buildings in bringing to life communities and neighbourhoods across the country. Architecture is the yeast, the special ingredient that brings life to communities and neighbourhoods right across the country.

The World Class Places strategy was part of the previous administration’s programme. I support many of its basic principles, like the importance of high standards of architecture and the value of the historic environment. However, as set out in the coalition’s Programme for Government, we are committed to promoting decentralisation and democratic engagement by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals. As part of this we are committed to reforming the planning system by implementing Open Source Planning, which puts a greater emphasis on giving local communities the power to determine the shape of the places where they live.


John Penrose’s listing decisions so far


  • Penzance Pier and Harbour
  • Milton Keynes Shopping Centre (pictured)
  • Darul Ummah Centre, London
  • Dunboyne Road and Branch Hill estates, London


Not listed


  • St Anne’s College Gatehouse, Oxford
  • Hoe Centre, Plymouth
  • Horwich Locomotive Works
  • Maiden Lane estate, London
  • 2c and 2d Belsize Park Gardens (pictured), London (appeal)

Removed from list


  • Westbury Lane Overbridge, West Berkshire
  • Listing status upheld
  • Castle House, Sheffield
  • Coventry Retail Market
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