The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is set to take over the job of deciding which post-war buildings are listed, using recommendations from English Heritage. But Twentieth Century Society consultant director Ken Powell has criticised the idea as a potential conflict of interest.
The move is set to be confirmed as part of a Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) shake-up of its policy on the historic environment, which it confirmed will be announced on 13 December. CABE is due to discuss the matter beforehand at its next Commissioner's meeting on 12 December.
But with DCMS minister Baroness Blackstone reviewing English Heritage's 'functions, role and management'; EH's 'anti' position in the Heron Tower public inquiry; chairman Neil Cossons receiving a rough ride over policy at the Architecture Club last week (see Astragal, page 102); and the abrupt departure of chief executive Pam Alexander in July, the switch suggests a sea-change in government attitudes to EH and conservation.
Currently, the way listings work is that EH officials suggest buildings they feel merit either a Grade I, II* or II listing and submit them to the DCMS for sanctioning. The man aiding the judgements is Bryan Jefferson, who also advises on other architectural matters in a one-day-a-week post. But the department, which funds both EH and CABE, has asked the Commission to become involved because Jefferson retires at Christmas.
It is not yet clear how the post-war listing assessments will work internally at CABE, but first signs are that judging which of the often controversial buildings should be listed will become the responsibility of the design review panel.
However, Ken Powell said he was worried about the moves, especially where schemes that are up for design review require demolitions of buildings which should also be considered for listing. 'It sounds like potential duplication and potential conflict of interest, ' he said. 'And why should a different building from a different date be judged by a different system?'
Powell said he thought the measures signalled a government move towards development and away from conservation, mirrored by Lord Falconer's attempts to speed up the planning process, to be outlined in a Green Paper next month.
English Heritage's director of national programmes and listing supremo, Dr Martin Cherry, confirmed that CABE is getting involved and said that conflicts of interest could arise. 'But it's not a showstopper, ' he said, claiming that the department will be 'canny' and open enough to realise when such situations might arise. Cherry said the DCMS was pro-conservation 'as long as it didn't get in the way of regeneration', whereas CABE was 'pro-development but also pro good design and not anti-conservation.'
Jefferson, who has advised the government on architecture since 1984, said he thought conflicts of interest would not arise. 'I'd have thought that the way that CABE is constituted, they will maintain rigorous Chinese walls, ' he told the AJ.