Broadgate Jeremy Hunt’s Latest Eco Disaster

Richard Serra Sculpture Displaced In Unwanted Redevelopment

On the 15 June Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt blocked English Heritage from grade two listing the much admired Brutalist Broadgate buildings 3, 4 and 6, designed by Peter Foggo of Arup Associates in the mid-1980s. This example of city of London architecture is considered to be some of the best designs produced in the Thatcher years. The plan now is to knock down the 25 year old buildings to make way for a much larger structure, housing the HQ for Swiss bank UBS. The replacement design involves a new 75m-high bank structure employing 6,000 people including 3,000 traders. UBS are trying to move its headquarters from Switzerland to London because the Swiss tax regulators are tightening up banking, or to put it another way, the tax regulations in London are actually seen as lenient in comparison to those of Switzerland, a country which has based its entire economy on tax dodging.

The protection of buildings act would have been the only spanner in the way of this major re-development. Hunt’s actions not only stops listing status by central government, but also stops local government ordering any protective status for themselves. Campaigners had been hoping that local officials might have been able to step in and save the buildings at the last moment but this is now unlikely. The buildings have already been cleared of tenants and the project is predicted to take 42 months from demolition to completion. The plan will green light British Land ,funded by the Blackstock private equity group to replace Broadgate with a 700,000sq ft “groundscraper” designed by the Gherkin’s architect, Ken Shuttleworth.

The listing case was carefully considered by English Heritage, and refusal to list the Broadgate Estate was made more quickly than expected. This follows much speculation that listing would be interpreted as a signal that The City of London was no longer “open for business”.  Jon Wright of the 20th century society recently wrote; “We believe that the ongoing vitality of the City rests on it retaining and valuing the best buildings of all periods of its construction. This is the latest in a line of recent cases where the C20 Society believe factors other than those that should be considered in the listing process have decided the fate of an important historic building. Only “architectural or historic significance” should be taken into account. This decision can do little to give confidence in a decision making process which has huge impact on the lives of many today, and the legacy we leave for future generations.  Like Preston Bus Station, Birmingham Central Library, Redcar Library, the Commonwealth War Graves Building and the South Bank Centre, Broadgate has been turned down for designation by a system which gives a single politician huge personal power.

 The recommended Grade II* listing is reflective, not just of national but international significance, and Broadgate was indeed celebrated in that arena when constructed. London may be open for business, but the loss of Broadgate’s best buildings will send another clear message: that the process by which we have assessed and designated our collective built heritage since 1945 has broken down”.

The project will also displace major public art works by Richard Serra and Barry  Flannagan. The Broadgate development was designed to incorporate public spaces and works of art in a creative way, bringing a human scale to the design. The new UBS building could be build anywhere in the city mile. The question remains, Why Here? We now have to wait and see if the destruction of this great 20th century complex, creating disruption for all working in the area with its negative ecological impact, carbon footprint and profligate waste of resources is justifiable. So much for David Cameron’s ‘Green’ building policies.

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