Accommodating change - Listed buildings serving London
Our report found much of London’s public service estate is more than a hundred years old and is often not fit for purpose. As a result, public bodies – such as the fire brigade and the police - are having difficulty in adapting their buildings to provide services more efficiently to a growing population, while at the same time preserving the building’s historical and architectural importance.
The Committee heard that the listing process does not take account of operational requirements of the listed buildings. Emergency spot listing, in particular, caused delays and added considerable additional costs when it was implemented just before planned refurbishment was due to take place.
The report said that spot listing - when a building is listed as part of an emergency procedure rather than as part of a planned review of an area – should be kept only for the most urgent cases. English Heritage should adopt “thematic” reviews aimed at different aspects of public buildings such as all London fire stations or libraries so that, when these are complete, public bodies can plan and invest with more certainty.
A number of recommendations are made, including:
- English Heritage should grant certificates of immunity from listing – a legal guarantee that the building will not be statutorily listed - for more than the current five years.
- The Department of Culture, Media and Sport should review the technical and legal remit of English Heritage regarding their role in making judgements on the refurbishment of public listed buildings.
- All London boroughs should appoint a Historic Environmental Champion to promote and protect listed buildings and prevent them from falling into disrepair.
The report said the overwhelming view from evidence received was that there is a lack of funding available to refurbish and maintain listed buildings. The Committee believe the Government should provide more financial assistance through small grants to kick-start the process of match funding. This will assist owners of public listed buildings with the refurbishment and maintenance costs for their properties. More importantly, it would ensure that some of these important public buildings are kept to a high standard and used as they were originally intended.
Written evidence submitted to the Committee for this investigation is available for download: