Letter: English Heritage's opinions reflect the variety of listed buildings

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have some sympathy with the criticisms contained in Edmund Soane's article ('Who will protect us from the protectors?',

1 December). Unfortunately, however, his article contains some important inaccuracies.

Contrary to what he writes, English Heritage is only involved outside London with the minority of listed building consent applications, which affect the most important buildings - Grade I and II*, which together represent 6 per cent of all listed buildings. In London, where in 1986 we inherited special powers from the GLC, our strategy is to transfer the responsibility for Grade II buildings to the local boroughs, where we believe it should lie, over the next three years.

At present we handle more than 8,000 listed building consent applications a year. Inevitably, there are some differences of view between professionals and some inconsistencies in so large a volume of cases, especially where it is in the nature of the work that each building is considered on its individual merit. We believe that, since buildings are listed for many different reasons, owners could understandably object to a mechanical rule applied without reference to individual character.

We make it our practice to test our views against the experience of others in the field, including architects in private practice. For this reason, we submit our work on the most important casework to no fewer than three specialist advisory committees of independent experts on a monthly basis. We have also a formal complaints procedure for the use of anyone who feels that we have not performed to their expectations.

Apart from introducing the case of Sir Norman Foster's scheme for a building for an insurance company near Tower Bridge, all the other examples on which the author bases his criticisms of English Heritage are anonymous, which puts the accused at a helpless disadvantage. I am prepared, therefore, to offer Mr Soane the opportunity of discussing with me each case on which he has based his criticisms and his other comments, on the understanding that he and you will truthfully publish his findings, however favourable or unfavourable they might be to English Heritage.

From an apparently unapproachable organisation guilty of petty tyranny, you cannot ask for more.

Yours sincerely,

JOCELYN STEVENS

Chairman, English Heritage

London, W1

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