Colleges and schools fear listed building straitjacket

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The Independent Online
ENGLISH HERITAGE, which is carrying out the first comprehensive survey of post-war architecture, has chosen more than 50 school and university buildings it believes deserve listed status. But the news is causing dismay among the buildings' occupiers.

University authorities fear that listing could involve them in expensive planning battles as they need to improve facilities to cope with one of the biggest intakes of students since the war. Financially hard-pressed schools fear it will make maintenance and repairs dearer.

Six years ago, English Heritage named 70 post-war buildings for listing, but the Department of the Environment accepted only 18. Now it has drawn up guidelines on what makes a post-war building interesting and begun its survey. The list of educational buildings is the first fruit of this exercise, and English Heritage expects a more sympathetic response from the Department of National Heritage, which will decide what to list in March.

English Heritage's listing inspector, Dr Diane Kay, said: 'We hope what we put forward will get through. We've been very responsible and what we're going to put forward will be very good.'

The list will include such buildings as Leicester University's engineering block, whose laboratories, which look like space-age greenhouses, were designed in 1960 by the late Sir James Stirling and James Gowan; St Catherine's College, Oxford, by Arne Jacobsen, where the listing will include all the furniture and fittings designed by the architect; and the school at Hunstanton, Norfolk, which was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, architects of The Economist building in Westminster, and is considered one of the most visionary post-war schools.

Already, Leicester's expansion plans have been affected by its being on the list. Last week the city council decided to recommend refusal of permission for alterations to the laboratory wing. The university wants to increase the size of its rooms by taking space from a balcony. The council consulted English Heritage after learning that the building was a candidate for listing and was told that the changes would 'lessen the drama of the building'.

A similar row is brewing at Sussex University, where the 30-year- old Falmer House building, considered one of the finest examples of Sir Basil Spence's work, is likely to be listed. The university wants to change its internal layout to extend the teaching space.

Sue Yates, a university spokeswoman, said: 'We are not at all happy about being listed. We consider we've got a very good record caring for our building and we don't feel we need external authorities telling us what to do. It's quite unnecessary and unwarranted interference.'

Southampton Institute, which has three 1963 buildings, is to apply for a Certificate of Immunity from listing, which it fears could jeopardise plans to redevelop its campus to accommodate growing student numbers.

The authorities at St Catherine's have more land and resources at their disposal. Dr Fran Dinshaw, the financial bursar, said: 'We are siting a new accommodation block on a car park. Listing does actually have some advantages. It means you don't pay VAT on repairs.'

Douglas Little, headmaster of Smithdon High School (formerly Hunstanton Secondary Modern School), said: 'If we become listed at least we'd be eligible for grants. But I can envisage a lot of bureaucratic red tape.

'The classrooms are now too small. Kids have grown since it was built and the rooms are full of computers and filing cabinets. The school is nightmarish to heat. All the rooms are on the first floor and there are no corridors, so there's no space for lockers.

'It was very visionary in 1954 and still looks very modern. If it's listed, it would be kudos, but it would have practical disadvantages.'

Dr Kay commented: 'Some of the schools and universities are probably panicking, but they are misinterpreting what listing is about.

'If the universities want to rearrange their rooms, that's not a problem, but it's more difficult if the building has been designed down to the nth degree. Listing is not meant to fossilise a building, but it means that it can't be changed willy-nilly.'

Other buildings to be recommended for listing include: New Hall, Cambridge, and Harvey Court, Caius College, Cambridge; Essendon School and Templewood School, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire; and Phoenix School, Bow, east London.

(Photographs omitted)