C20 Society is supporting an online petition that is calling on the UK government to alter listed building legislation. This would introduce the provision of ‘interim protection’ to buildings that are being assessed for listing status. We believe this to be an important and necessary mechanism, and relevant to buildings of all periods. Under the current system, buildings that are being assessed are vulnerable to harmful alterations or demolition by owners who do not wish to see their property listed. Interim protection would allow Historic England time to assess buildings and ensure that they are not damaged irrevocably to prevent their designation.
The petition is a response to the recent loss of a Jacobean ceiling in Bristol, which was deliberately destroyed whilst the status of the building was still under consideration – but this sort of vandalism affects heritage of all ages and types.
One of the earliest and most high-profile cases taken on by the Society was the Firestone Factory on London’s Great West Road. This landmark art-deco building was demolished over a bank holiday weekend of August 1980, in anticipation of its approval for listing. More recently, the sculpture “The Artist as Hephaestus” by Eduardo Paolozzi (1987) was removed from High Holborn, London, and sold at auction. In late 2012, the piece of public art was removed overnight from its street side position, after the C20 Society had urged Camden Council to serve an urgent Building Preservation Notice.
BPNs offer temporary protection, but are rarely issued by local authorities as they are liable to compensate the owner financially if the listing application is unsuccessful.
The Carlton Tavern (Frank J. Potter, 1920-21), a pub in London’s Maida Vale, was illegally demolished in April 2015 while an application for listing was awaiting approval. In a rare, bold move for a local authority in this position, Westminster Council demanded that the pub was rebuilt in facsimile. Had the local authority been unwilling to take these steps, there would have been no independent protection available to safeguard the building, and its demolition could not have otherwise been challenged retroactively.
Interim protection for heritage assets awaiting listing decisions is important and long overdue, and we urge members and friends of the Society to sign the petition here.