Friday, 20 September 2013

Listed Buildings

From the BBC

A yellow-roofed warehouse in Swindon that featured in a James Bond film has been given Grade II*-listed status.

The Spectrum building, Renault's former distribution centre, was designed by Lord Norman Foster and opened in 1982.

Featuring yellow steel "umbrella masts", the futuristic single-storey glass-walled building was also used as a backdrop in A View To A Kill in 1984.

Roger Bowdler, from English Heritage, said it was "one of the very finest examples of a hi-tech building".

Famous for his steel and glass designs, Lord Foster created the Gherkin and Millennium Bridge in London, rebuilt Berlin's Reichstag and also Hong Kong Airport.


The building saw the last of the car manufacturer's workers move out when Renault closed its operations there in 2001.

Since then, the 25,000 sq m building has housed a car seat manufacturer, a soft indoor play centre and a firm that produces DVDs.

... and a car dealership. Since 2001. Get the message?

One of the things about buildings is that they're often very hard to repurpose. Look at the Olympics - we're burning £100m+ on converting it from an athletics stadium to a football stadium. Sometimes, you can take a building and make it work for something else (like the EMI CD production building in Swindon that is now a car dealership), but it's often quite difficult. Which is why you need people to be able to either take large chunks out of them, or just knock them down and build something new in their place.

And one of the problems with buildings that could be classified as "modern wank" is that they're not only self-indulgent by the people creating and commissioning them, they're also not very practical. Even the early users often find them a bit crap, but repurposing them and maintaining them is even worse because of irregular use of materials and shapes. Once you list them, this is only going to get worse.

So, give it a decade, this will be probably be like so many listed buildings - empty, with the owners praying for a fire to destroy it so they can put something useful in its place.


Kj said...

Reminds me of a practice Japan, where building on leased land is not unusual. Tenants that build on leased land has to pay into a fund that covers demolition costs, so that the freeholder can tear down the place after the lease is up. Maybe all buildings, on"freehold" land or not, should carry demolition accounts/policies with them, so new owners can quickly tear down buildings with no purpose before someone tries to list them!

Dinero said...

What happens to the value of the Land under the building and what have its owners got to say about that.

Lola said...

I didn't think you had to 'pray' for a fire. All you needed was to know a couple of likely lads and give them a cash adjustment plus some petrol. But there you go, times move on.

Tim Almond said...

I'm not sure that's a good idea. For one thing, demolition costs can change, especially if we find that something that we didn't considered as risky (e.g. blue asbestos) is discovered to be. We don't have many examples of buildings that can't be demolished because of costs.

In some places, the land value becomes worthless because of listing. If someone has a building on land and that building is useless or in such a state that repair isn't going to be worth repairing, the land value basically falls to 0.

Abbey Road Studios is a rather large building in an upmarket part of London whose value by listing has been reduced from over £30m to maybe 1/10th of that (there's lots of recording studios that can do the same job for £1000/day).

The problem with listing is that we put responsibilities on property owners with no recompense for doing so. We want a building to remain as it is, we should pay the owner of that building for doing so.

What I would suggest as an add-on to LVT is a "beauty rebate", payable by local taxpayers. The rebate would be offered to the owner of a building. If he accepted it, if it was worth his while, he then has to keep it preserved. If it's not enough, he can refuse it and do what he likes with the building. Not only would this shift the cost to the people who want something, it would also incentivise keeping those buildings better.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Whether we like those buildings or not, who's to say that the next building wouldn't have been even nicer?

Din, getting listed status is a bit of a dampener on windfall land value gains.

Kj said...

TS: True enough. Although as long as local government is responsible for waste, the actual cost pretty much depends on them. A rule of thumb from a builder I know, is that demolition cost are around 5-10% of new build cost. As of today that is, and a large part of this is landfill fees. If local governments were to do what they were supposed to do, they could easily make this cheap by charging a teeny tiny millage on buildings, and then offer to take on most of the demolition expense from anyone wanting to tear down by using the fire-departments and landfills.

Re the idea of the "beauty rebate", the costs on listed buildings can be just rebated as a lower value assessment, considering both the restrictions on use and costs of maintenance to be in compliance. Benefits to the community at large, if any, is collected through higher rates if the market think there are.

Bayard said...

TS, what this is really an abuse of the listed buildings procedure. The original idea of having a list of historic buildings of merit was that they would be just that, historic and of merit. The vast majority of listed buildings are demonstrably fit for purpose, as has been proved by the fact that they are still here x hundred years later. Also very few of them, except ones listed recently, are "iconic", which means that they have changed over the years and so can be changed again, provided those changes are in keeping with the original building. The problem with "iconic" buildings is that it is almost impossible to change then "in keeping", as they are all of a piece.
The other problem with listed buildings these days is that far too many conservation officers and even people from EH, CADW and HS haven't either the knowledge or the guts to approve changes to listed buildings and so go for the safe option of no change at all. This, along with listing modern architects' wet dreams has made the whole idea of listing unpopular and resulted in the dereliction and destruction of the very buildings the scheme was designed to save.

Tim Almond said...


This, along with listing modern architects' wet dreams has made the whole idea of listing unpopular and resulted in the dereliction and destruction of the very buildings the scheme was designed to save.

I've heard of this. Someone gets a whiff of EH taking an interest, they get the bulldozers in and knock it down.

I know someone who owns an old listed building. It's a former corn exchange and bingo hall. He first wanted to turn it into a hotel, that was turned down, so he tried flats. That was turned down. He fundamentally wants to keep as much of the old building as possible, but needs a few changes, and each time, gets turned down. He now wants to get it bulldozed because there's no use he can put it to that he can get approval for.