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JOWELL THREATENS LISTING SYSTEM

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AGENDA

The government is preparing to push legislation through parliament that could endanger one of London's finest post-war buildings and jeopardise the entire listing system.

A bid by two of Prime Minister Tony Blair's closest Cabinet colleagues to delist the 1962 Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street, west London, was revealed in a secret document leaked to the press last Friday, 26 May.

Not only would the bill - sponsored by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett - clear the way for the bulldozers, it would also put listed buildings nationwide in danger.

The pair are keen to force through the measure as a way of supporting the Institute's trustees, who want to maximise the value of the land the building is sited on by allowing for its demolition.

Campaigners argue that the legislation to delist - for economic reasons - Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners' Grade II*-listed Institute would set an extremely dangerous precedent.

And the move comes just a year after Jowell herself supported an English Heritage report which rejected an earlier bid to delist the building, described by Pevsner as 'informal and inexpensive, and full of post-war optimism'.

In July 2005 Jowell said: 'The advice from EH could not be clearer. Our experts on the historic environment believe that this is one of the most important post-war buildings of that period in London.'

EH boss Simon Thurley responded to the plan with horror, describing it as 'a demolishers' charter'.

He warned that it would undermine the existence of such masterpieces as London Zoo, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and the British Museum.

'This proposal to alter the law in order to make delisting the Commonwealth Institute possible is muddled, dangerous and completely unnecessary.

'Historically priceless buildings occupying valuable sites everywhere would be put at risk from demolition if it could be shown that maximum profit could be achieved for any good cause.

'There is already a constructive and democratic way of resolving cases like this.

'This undermines the fundamental principle that our best and most culturally valuable architecture is worth keeping, ' Thurley added.

And, unsurprisingly, the Twentieth Century Society (C20) agreed, launching a personal attack on Jowell.

'If the Foreign Office values the work of the Commonwealth Institute Trustees then they should consider grant-aiding them from their own funds, ' said C20's Catherine Croft. 'They should not try to help them raise money by depriving us of a major cultural asset.

'Tessa Jowell's job is to protect our heritage, not to help her friends in other departments find ways around the legislation that she is supposed to defend, ' Croft added.

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