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Another red-tape busting move to kick-start development

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English Heritage is cutting red tape on listed buildings. Good news or a boost for facadism? asks Christine Murray

Listed building consent is getting a major shake-up, Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, revealed at last week’s AJ100 Breakfast Club.

Grade I-listed buildings, including their later alterations, will no longer be preserved in aspic (for details, see page 9). Non-significant buildings or structures will be excluded from protection and the onus will be on conservation officers to define what precise elements of the buildings should be retained. Thurley also introduced plans to issue certificates of immunity from listing that can be applied for at any time, and a certificate of lawful proposed works that do not require consent - valid for 10 years.

It’s another red-tape busting move to kick-start development by eliminating some of the hassle of dealing with listed heritage. From TV’s Restoration Home to Homes Under the Hammer, listed buildings have a bad reputation for being expensive investments saddled with nonsensical regulations that prevent their adaptation into places fit for 21st-century living. With these changes, more listed properties will be made attractive for redevelopment.

But the devil will be in the detail of how this new legislation is applied - and how well ‘expert decisions’ regarding a building’s significance are resourced by cash-poor local authorities and English Heritage, an organisation that had its government funding axed by 32 per cent in 2010. Thurley did not say these changes would come through with any kind of financial backing.

As Heather Jermy, Heritage Consultancy Manager at Purcell, says, ‘the Act is beneficial in terms of development … but only when used carefully and with appropriate advice.’

There are already too many grotesque redevelopments across the UK that pay lip service to heritage by retaining mangled fragments of historic buildings, often at the planners’ insistence.

If Thurley wants this new legislation to, as he says, ‘make our historic buildings much better places to live in’, it will need to protect against the further creation of these monstrosities - a practice which these changes seem to support.

Thurley is right to overhaul listed building consent, but there are cases where wholesale preservation is better than the emasculation of a building through the retention of its redundant facade. Similarly, demolition can be more dignified than the building of a compromise.

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