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Ministers reject Southbank listing for fourth time

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Ministers have rejected a fourth bid to list buildings on London’s Southbank Centre, acting against Historic England advice

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport refused to grant heritage protection for the Brutalist-style arts complex, which includes the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. 

The buildings were designed in the 1960s by the London County Council Special Works Group, a posse of architects that included Warren Chalk and Ron Herron of Archigram. The centre also includes the Royal Festival Hall, which was Grade I listed in 1981.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room reopened earlier this year after a two-year refurbishment, led by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. In 2013 the practice had previously submitted plans for a headline-grabbing £120 million overhaul featuring a glazed ‘liner’ building and a semi-transparent, box-like sky pavilion – but these proposals were challenged and the scheme failed to materialise.

Various attempts have been made to have the buildings listed, most recently in 2012 when a certificate of immunity was issued, ruling out any further listing attempts until 2017.

A fresh certificate has not yet been awarded with the latest ruling, but if one is then it could be another five years before the case can be heard again.

However, conservation body the Twentieth Century Society said it would appeal against the latest refusal to list. It said the decision left the Southbank Centre ‘under threat’, coming ahead of a planned phase of works in the area.

Senior conservation adviser at the society Tess Pinto added that a freedom of information request had been submitted into the decision process.

‘The only criteria that should be taken into account when making a listing decision are historic and architectural interest,’ she said. ‘The minister received a strong recommendation to list the building on these grounds from Historic England.’

A Historic England spokesperson said: ‘We recommended the building be listed but accept the minister’s decision to grant a certificate of immunity from listing. We act in an advisory role but as with all listing cases, the final decision lies with the minister.’ 

A government spokesperson said: ’Having considered the advice of Historic England and representations by interested parties, it has been decided that the Southbank Centre Festival Wing does not meet the special architectural or historic interest criteria for listing. The final decision on whether to issue a certificate of immunity has not yet been made.’

Comment

Jon Wright, heritage consultant and 20th century architecture specialist at Purcell

This [decision] is a shame, but far from a surprise. It should be listed of course and it weakens the case for listing as an affective instrument of heritage protection every time DCMS take the view of a private firm over that which they’ve received from their own advisers. That’s the truly damaging element of this, because the building isn’t going anywhere, it won’t be demolished. It’s talismanic to the Southbank and a part of the fabric that makes the place still so dynamic and interesting.

’The Southbank is both robust enough and tough enough to take another five years off the list’

I’ll dissent slightly here and say that I’m not that concerned by the lack of heritage protection for it. There are other, less loved and less well-known bits of Brutalism that need heritage protection – like Dunelm House for example. Southbank is a sprawling, messy and beautiful monster that London loves and it is both robust enough and tough enough to take another five years off the list. It’s a shame, but its time will come.

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