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Westminster ruling finds art integral to listed buildings

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Westminster City Council is claiming a 'landmark planning victory with implications for thousands of property owners throughout the uk' after a publishing company was ordered to return works of art to its former listed home.

After a costly four-year planning battle, the artworks - a Henry Moore bronze sculpture worth over £1 million, a Ben Nicholson painting entitled 'The Spirit of Architecture' worth over £400,000, a Geoffrye Clarke sculpture, 'The Complexities of Man' and a symbolic clock, the 'Astolabe' by the Ironside Brothers - will be returned to the Time & Life Building, designed by Austrian architect Michael Rosenauer, in New Bond Street. The company, which 'owns' the works, wanted to take them when it vacated the premises. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ruled that the artefacts were an 'integral part of the property' which should not have been removed by the occupiers and should be returned inside two months. The decision comes after a lengthy planning battle by Westminster council and its hired counsel, embracing two public inquiries and a High Court challenge over the issue.

Councillor Alan Bradley said it is a decision of 'tremendous national and international significance'. 'It means that where an artwork is an integral part of a listed building it simply cannot be taken away,' he said. 'Important works of art can now be protected and preserved in the setting for which they were designed.'

Principal conservation and design officer for Westminster Mike Lowndes said it had been a question of interpretation of the fixtures and fittings law, both of the methods and purpose of annexation, where it had been demonstrated that the work was integral as a collaboration between artists and architects. He did not think it would stifle commissions but that potential occupiers would have to become more careful.

Public Art Commissions Agency director Vivien Lovell told the aj that she thought the decision, a 'triumph for the art and architecture movement', might raise the standard of commissioning practice by 'making people think about site specificity'. 'Specially commissioned artworks should not be regarded as assets to be moved or sold on whim' she said. 'To do so denigrates the intentions of the commissioner, the artist and the architect.'

Two years ago paca declined to advise 'on principle' on a new art commission for the building when it emerged the new work would go on the site left vacant by the Ben Nicholson painting.

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