The National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace is pretty much out of breath, like so many of its punters. Next Thursday, the London Development Agency (LDA) will launch a 'significant' consultation process to show the public its plans to redevelop the Grade II*-listed 1960s sports complex. According to the LDA, a competition to find designs for a new stadium will be launched by the end of the month, with a shortlist of replacement ideas to be announced by early 2006.
But, unknown to the majority of the inhabitants of Crystal Palace, the zeal to get a new sports centre is allowing the LDA to exploit a littleknown listing loophole.
According to current planning guidance, even an architectural treasure can be destroyed if it can be proved that the benefit to the community of a redevelopment would outweigh the importance of the building's architecture.
The 'planning loophole' lies in paragraph 3.19 of the ODPM's Planning Policy Guidance 15, which says that three criteria must be fulfilled before a listed building is demolished. These are that the cost of maintaining the existing building must have skyrocketed;
a real effort must have been made to make use of the existing structure; and the merits of a new building to the community 'outweigh the arguments in favour of preservation'. Thankfully, according to one anonymous English Heritage (EH) professional, all these criteria are rarely met.
Paragraph 3.19, the bête noire of the conservationist lobby, is often cited in the 20 or so applications to demolish listed buildings that come across the desk of EH experts every year. Listed buildings are rarely knocked down, and there has to be a strong case in favour of razing something to the ground for it to actually occur. The last high-profile example of a listed building being destroyed was Wembley Stadium. In this case, the building was considered beyond refurbishment. Similar arguments are being used up and down the country, to try to demolish architecturally interesting public baths and swimming pools by notable architects that are deemed to be no longer doing their job.
Coventry City Council (AJ+ 22.08.05) and Reading Borough Council are just two of these malignant pool killers.
But why is the significance of a structure to the community not considered when listing it in the first place? Surely that would be fair? Not so, says Roger Bowdler, head of territory designation with EH.
'Listing is not a preservation order, ' he argues, 'it's a much drier exercise and exists to make people think twice about demolishing buildings of historical and architectural merit.' So, according to him, EH acts as a tiny spanner in the massive redevelopment works of the ODPM machine.
In the face of such might, professionals such as Bowdler strive to make cases for reusing buildings as best they can.
As a result of this, the LDA has to put a very convincing case forward for a new sports centre at Crystal Palace to be built (see box). Ideas for an 'eco-friendly, modern' facility are already being mooted. Whether or not this will be enough to convince the planners, public, and conservation lobby remains to be seen.