Annexe

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The Independent Culture
The smiling faces of the Rt Hon Virginia Bottomley JP, MP and the Rt Hon William Hague MP, nattily dressed and neatly coiffed, beam from the foreword of Protecting our Heritage, a handsomely produced and intelligently written consultation document on the future of the built heritage of England and Wales (Scotland is a law unto itself in these matters). The document raises all the right issues, makes all the right noises. It even treats modern buildings with due respect, stressing the point that "the Government rejects the argument that special architectural or historic interest cannot be discerned in modern buildings or that such buildings should be listed on a basis which denies them the full statutory protection applying to older listed buildings". Glamorous photographs back the argument; we see the Bird's Eye headquarters building, Surrey (1960-61), described as "an early and elegant example of an out-of-town office."

It is remarkable that Mrs Bottomley and Mr Hague should now be taking such a keen interest in the brash commercial architecture of the "you've never had it so good" era. But, can we really take this document seriously? For all its smooth words, we know that Mr Hague has recently washed his hands over the future of the magnificent, and listed, Brynmawr Rubber factory in South Wales. Designed by the Architects' Co-Partnership and completed in 1951, this is one of the finest modern buildings in the principality. Local government officers and politicians have been wanting to get rid of it for years so that it can be replaced by the second-rate tat they so like to see cluttering the Welsh landscape. If Mr Hague is so irresponsible as to let this building go, and if he and his advisors lack the imagination to know what to do with it, how can we entrust them with our built heritage? Any of us can say, oh yes, we must protect Peterborough Cathedral or the Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire; it takes real maturity of judgement, however, to protect modern masterpieces, particularly when faced by philistine local government. Until we know buildings like Brynmawr are safe, we should consign Protecting our Heritage to the paper-shredder. Or else list it, Grade 1, as a masterly work of PR gloss.

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