HL Deb 21 February 1992 vol 535 cc1450-1

11.30 a.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on listing contemporary buildings.

Earl Howe

My Lords, the Government's policy is to identify the best examples of post-World War II architecture for listing. Twenty-seven buildings of the period have been listed to date, but we believe that a more systematic approach must now be adopted to provide a firm framework for assessing important buildings. English Heritage has therefore been asked to carry out a three-year research programme into the main building types to identify key exemplars across the country and to provide guidelines for future listings. In the meantime, we are prepared to act to protect buildings of special architectural or historic interest which are at risk.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most encouraging and constructive reply. Is it not essential that we preserve not only our past heritage, but also the contributions of our own generation? Can he elaborate further on what he said about the Government's plans to act with English Heritage in that regard?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Of course I agree with his first point but would qualify it by saying that the listing of post-war buildings in particular is a complex and highly sensitive matter. The recent past is notoriously difficulty to judge objectively and there can be a wide divergence of views on the merits of modern buildings.

English Heritage's research is already under way. English Heritage is being advised by a panel of specialists and the Historic Buildings Advisory Committee. It will consult widely and intends to hold a seminar in July on work in progress on the first building type to be researched and on the broader issues.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a number of buildings which were built since the war, however well designed, were constructed with materials which have begun to deteriorate? Is there, therefore, any procedure for de-listing buildings which have once been listed?

Earl Howe

My Lords, my noble friend has made a very important point. Buildings should stand the test of time. It is precisely to formulate a set of principles of that kind that English Heritage has set about its task. Regarding my noble friend's specific question, yes, it is possible to de-list a listed building.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there will be considerable relief at his recognition of the difficulty of assessing the work of contemporary architects and at his recognition of the great danger in coming to conclusions on those buildings before time has had some effect on judgment? In illustration of that point, is he aware that the Alexander Fleming building recently inhabited by the Department of Health and Social Security—a monument to depression—was awarded a certificate of merit as an architectural gem at the time it was opened?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I was aware of my noble friend's point. The case for listing Alexander Fleming House was carefully considered by Ministers in 1988 before they decided, on the advice of English Heritage, not to list the building.