English Heritage’s belated stance on Broadgate is not only reactive, it’s dangerous, say Christine Murray
The biggest story of the week is English Heritage’s decision to put 1-2, 3, 4, 6 and 8-12 Broadgate and 100 Liverpool Street forward for listing. The move prompted a last-minute phone call to AJ towers from a breathless researcher on the Newsnight production team, frantically looking for ‘experts on 1980s architecture’ to appear on last Thursday night’s show.
Unfortunately our recommendations were ignored in place of celebrity. Wayne Hemingway opened the item with a gaffe, striding down the steps
of 100 Liverpool Street saying, ‘This is Broadgate in the City of London, designed by one of my favourite architects, Ken Shuttleworth.’ And Rosie Millard of the Daily Telegraph kicked off the on-air debate perplexingly, describing the British Library as looking ‘a bit like a supermarket’, apparently one of the hallmarks of 1980s architecture.
The commentary was inane, peppered with footage of shoulder pads and Margaret Thatcher. What was missing was an intelligent debate about the process of listing, the specific qualities of the buildings of Broadgate, the political context in which this move for listing was made, a debate on the merits of the proposed UBS scheme by Make… I could go on.
Sadly, most Newsnight viewers won’t know that some of these so-called experts weren’t talking sense, which is what makes these skin-deep, pop debates on architecture so worrying. English Heritage’s call for listing is similarly dumbfounding, and equally dangerous. If the buildings of Broadgate are truly of Grade II* quality, why did English Heritage not raise its voice during planning, or at the time of CABE’s design review – or indeed, why didn’t they put Broadgate forward for listing when the development was mooted in the first place?
Listing should be an act of preservation, but the political timing of this attempt to list Broadgate suggests an act of war, not to protect the existing buildings, but to block a development that has undergone due process. Love it or hate it, Make’s scheme for UBS survived the rigours of design review and planning, and emerged with unanimous approval.
It is one thing to dislike Make’s design; it is quite another for the City of London to be saddled with all the buildings of Broadgate for good because of a Grade II* listing that 65 per cent of AJ readers polled deemed undeserved.
The Broadgate plans are now in a serious pickle. Should culture secretary Jeremy Hunt choose to refuse English Heritage’s request for Grade II* listing, he is required to give very precise reasons why these buildings do not deserve it, or else be subject to judicial review.
Planning and listing should be the safeguards against, not the agents of, partisan and populist approaches to decision-making. It is an abuse of process for English Heritage to deploy listing in order to block a development that has undergone the due process of planning.