Henry Moore's cooling towers under threat

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English Heritage considers listing Didcot power station, once the third most hated site in Britain

To some, they are a monstrous blot on the landscape. To others, they are majestic symbols of a dying industrial age. Now, the cooling towers of Didcot power station are to be demolished, and both sides are preparing for battle.

English Heritage is considering whether to list the six concrete towers that have dominated south Oxfordshire since 1970. They were designed by the prominent 20th-century architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, who created the town of Harlow and Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral, and the sculptor Henry Moore is thought to have had a say in their layout. High-profile fans of the towers include the author Philip Pullman and comedy writer John Lloyd.

Didcot A is one of only 14 coal-fired stations in the UK, but it will be decommissioned in March. In 2008, it opted out of an EU directive on carbon emissions, which meant it had to close after 20,000 hours of generation from that moment. That point will be reached much earlier than the 2015 date previously expected, at which point it will be unplugged from the national grid and demolished.

However, The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Didcot's owner, RWE npower, concerned by the growth of public affection for the towers, has applied for a certificate of immunity from English Heritage, to stop the towers being listed. The conservation body's representatives are assessing the case for listing.

In 2003, readers of Country Life voted Didcot Britain's third worst eyesore, after windfarms and Birmingham New Street station. But the same magazine suggested in 2007 that Moore might have been involved in the design, when the architectural historian Howard Colvin was quoted saying: "I remember we [the Fine Art Commission] were shown scale models of the cooling towers for Didcot power station and Henry Moore spent ages moving them around to create a good composition. I saw them the other day from the train and think he did rather a good job."

Philip Pullman, who lives nearby, agrees. "I think it's a splendid-looking place and I'd be sorry to see it go. It's one of those things that looks horrible when it's first put up, but it's actually rather marvellous."

John Lloyd, who can see Didcot from his garden in West Hendred, said that it "beats Battersea [power station] into a cocked hat. It has a kind of industrial magnificence".

Didcot

Arguably Henry Moore's largest sculpture, Didcot dominates the Thames Valley in south Oxfordshire, and has inspired poets and artists. It could now disappear.

Dungeness

The nuclear power station on Romney Marsh in Kent has attracted artists inspired by its bleak presence. Derek Jarman bought a cottage and created a garden nearby.

Drax

Yorkshire's 12-tower station is the largest coal-fired plant in the UK. Looming over the Ouse valley, it provides 7 er cent of Britain's energy, the single biggest supplier.

Bankside power station

Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool Cathedral. Decommissioned in 1981, in 2000 it became Tate Modern. Now attracts five million visitors a year.

Battersea power station

Also designed by Scott, in 1929, and decommissioned in 1983, the Grade II* listed landmark has been sold for development as a hotel, shops, offices and apartments.

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