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Time the mayor got his own backyard in order

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Ken Livingstone's attack on English Heritage: 'Angry Livingstone in EH takeover', (AJ 21.3.02), was, as usual, both misguided and misinformed.

What is so worrying is that it is symptomatic of an unrelenting hostility to conservation and progressive urban values, which is redolent of the worst excesses of the 1970s. If it continues, it will have hugely damaging consequences for London's reputation as one of the world's most liveable cities.

At last Ken Livingstone has recognised that what he needs is expert advice on London's historic environment. The answer is not to take over one of the nine regions of English Heritage - a national repository of expertise on all aspects of the historic environment - but to appoint his own cabinet adviser and staff. It is astonishing that, with responsibility for preparing a plan for one of the world's greatest historic cities, he has no cabinet adviser or dedicated conservation staff. Three times we have offered to help pay for one to help avoid further gaffes, but to no avail.

Fact: I have had no private lunch with the mayor. Fact:

There is no agreement with English Heritage over tall buildings in London. Fact: People value places and not just individual buildings whether new or old. Fact: Our MORI poll highlighted that 77 per cent of people disagreed that we preserve too much. Fact: English Heritage did not cut down the trees on the Embankment in front of Somerset House.

Fact: On Bishopsgate Goods Yard, what has happened is what the mayor has stated publicly he wanted to happen. The Braithwaite Viaduct has been listed Grade II. Just like the mayor, we are opposed to the demolition of the remainder of the Goods Yard until an adequate masterplan is in place. The line is not yet funded, there is no development partner in place and no planning permission for the replacement infrastructure.

What we want to avoid is premature demolition and a hole in the ground with no understanding of what is going back or when.

English Heritage is 100 per cent behind the construction of the East London Line extension, but we know of no engineering reasons why it cannot be built on the existing structure as was originally planned. The creative adaptation and reuse of the Goods Yard, with mixed-use development above, has the potential to be a spectacular catalyst for the wider regeneration of the area - the Camden Market or Covent Garden of east London. The City fringe is not a dumping ground for office blocks, but home to some of the most deprived communities in London who deserve better.

We have commissioned a report to show how it can be done.

Sir Neil Cossons, chairman, English Heritage

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