Will you join campaign to boost protection of our listed buildings?

Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin at Downe, is Grade I-listed

The case of the Blue Boys Inn at Matfield (see here and here) is a depressing example of how some of our most important and historic buildings do not have the protection they merit.

The inn, which is subject to a planning application, is Grade II-listed but in a state of desperately poor repair, in part at least because of a weakness in planning legislation.

Now CPRE Kent is getting behind a campaign to tighten up protection for our most treasured architectural gems.

The issue concerns the listing of buildings, a process overseen by government agency Historic England, whose website states:

“Listing marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations.”
Most of us are familiar with the concept of listing, but fewer know how levels of designation are decided upon, so here they are:

  • Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest; only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
  • Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
  • Grade II buildings are of special interest; 91.7% of all listed buildings are in this class.

Anyone can nominate a building to be listed, while Historic England has its own programme of listing priorities. Either way, the agency makes its recommendations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who makes the final decision.

Once listed, a building has a measure of protection, with owners who want to make any structural changes having to make a listed building planning application separate to the ‘standard’ one to the local authority.

However, a potentially important building is vulnerable up to that point, even during the period when it is being assessed by Historic England for potential listing.

To tackle that failing, a petition has been set up by Bristol campaigner Neil McKay, who wrote to John Wotton, chairman of CPRE Kent’s historic buildings committee:

“There has been a long-standing problem in the UK with lack of protection for buildings which are undergoing assessment for listing.

“On numerous occasions owners or developers have exploited this weakness in current legislation to deliberately destroy historic assets to prevent possible listing.

“In a draft bill which was proposed in 2008, amongst other matters measures were proposed to provide automatic interim protection during the listing process.

“Unfortunately, this bill did not make it on to the statute books, and the loophole remains.

“Local authorities can choose to serve a Building Preservation Notice on a building considered to be at risk. But this is rarely done.”

Mr McKay notes that the Welsh Assembly has introduced legislation giving the necessary protection to historic buildings in Wales, but England has not followed suit.

To that end, he is petitioning the DCMS to give automatic interim protection to buildings proposed for listing in this country.

“I hope CPRE will agree that it simply makes no sense to allow historic assets to be destroyed before Historic England can even consider their merits for listing,” he wrote.

“The campaign is also supported by numerous heritage organisations including the SPAB [Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings], the C20 Society, the Georgian Group, Bristol Heritage Forum and the Victorian Society,” he continued.

CPRE Kent’s board and the branch’s historic buildings committee have endorsed his campaign and Mr Wotton has signed the petition, as has Lady Akenhead, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells committee.

Mr Wotton said: “The lamentable condition of the Blue Boys serves as a stark reminder of the damage that can be done to a prominent heritage asset while Historic England decides whether to list it.

“The petition has now attracted around 6,400 signatures and I urge fellow CPRE Kent members to support it.”

You can sign the petition here

Friday, November 10, 2017

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