Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by English Heritage


  1.  English Heritage is the Government's adviser on all aspects of the historic environment in England. It was established by the National Heritage Act in 1983 and is sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

  2.  English Heritage's work falls into three main categories:

    —  Increasing knowledge and understanding of the historic environment

    —  Using grants and planning advice to encourage managed change and conservation of the historic environment

    —  Broadening people's access to and understanding of their built and archaeological heritage, principally by presenting 409 historic properties and sites to the public


  3.  Within English Heritage's wider duty to increase knowledge and understanding of the historic environment, we work to identify buildings, monuments, sites and landscapes of historical, architectural and archaeological significance meriting protection. Buildings identified as significant are recommended to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for inclusion on the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

  4.  The List currently contains approximately 370,000 entries divided into three grades to reflect relative architectural and historic interest:

Grade Ibuildings of exceptional interest (2 per cent of entries)
Grade II*particularly important buildings of more than special interest (4 per cent of the entries)
Grade IIbuildings of special interest (94 per cent of the entries)

  5.  In 2000-01 English Heritage made approximately 2,500 listing recommendations to the DCMS, including advice both to list and not to list. 99 per cent of those recommendations were accepted by the Secretary of State. Recommendations are based on a range of factors, including age, rarity, architectural merit, method of construction and historical importance and association.



  6.  The riverside sites of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex were assembled in the late 19th century by Charles Edward Flower and given to the Governors of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was built in 1879 and followed by the Art Gallery and Library (1881) and Lecture Theatre (1886).

  7.  In 1926 the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was largely destroyed by fire, although the Library and Art Gallery were saved. The theatre was replaced by Elizabeth Scott's Shakespeare Memorial Theatre building in 1932, which was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) in 1961.

  8.  In 1986, after decades of use as a conference venue, scenery store and rehearsal room, the shell of the 1879 theatre was re-converted into the Swan Theatre.

Significance and listing history

  9.  The remains of the first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre of 1879 were listed grade II* in 1971 along with the 1881 Library and Art Gallery. Elizabeth Scott's Theatre was added to the listing in 1980 at grade II. Both these items were amalgamated as a single entry at grade II* in 1987.

  10.  There can be little doubt that the Royal Shakespeare Company, as a cultural entity, is of real national importance. The second Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, built after an international competition in 1927, was thought at the time to be of equal national importance. For example, when this building was completed in 1932 a whole edition of the Architectural Review was devoted to it, as the most important new theatre to be designed and built in England since the Great War and as one of the most important new buildings to result from a public competition.

  11.  The winning design for the new theatre was produced by Elizabeth Scott, a recent graduate of the Architectural Association. It was unanimously chosen from amongst 72 competition entries. The building was the first important public building to be designed in Britain by a woman, a very significant historical aspect of the building's design. Scott became a partner in the firm she worked for — Scott, Chesterton & Shepherd — in order to carry out the design. The building cost just over £175,000 to build and was opened by the Prince of Wales on 23 April 1932.

  12.  This building is not primarily listed at grade II* because of its historic importance as the first important building built by a woman, nor is it listed as the most important new theatre building built in England in the inter-war period but as a very fine and early example of a Modern-style public building. Unlike the old Gothic Revival-style Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, which had been destroyed by fire in 1926, the new theatre adopted the best modern municipal style of architecture being developed on the continent at the time, especially in the work of W M Dudok at Hilversum and Michel de Klerk in Amsterdam. The various functional blocks of this building, like the auditorium, the fly tower and the foyer are all differentiated individually on the exterior and each is clearly recognisable from outside. These blocks are then integrated together in a harmonious relationship to form the basic shape of the theatre. Its dramatically curved entrance was given the most elaborate sculptural decoration, especially the three brick relief carvings by Eric Kennington above the main windows. The monumental block of the fly tower with its stepped top contrasts with the even simpler auditorium block. The best view of the theatre was always seen to be the terrace front which faced the river, and allowed audiences to parade here in the intervals. Fortunately Elizabeth Scott chose to clad the building in brick rather than painted stucco or concrete, and this has mellowed over the years, allowing the building to harmonize with the brick architecture of the town. This theatre compares well with other significant inter-war buildings such as Battersea Power Station and Cambridge University Library, both designed by Scott's cousin Giles Gilbert Scott. The Architectural Review makes it clear that it was the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, not the better known RIBA Building on Portland Place that first attempted a synthesis of architecture and all the applied arts. This was an important concept [gesamkunstwerk] in the buildings of the 1930s and 1950s, one which derived ultimately from Scandinavia and Northern Europe where new concert halls and a few new theatres were beginning to be produced.

  13.  The interior was equally new and uncluttered. The auditorium has been fairly comprehensively altered over the years, but the well preserved foyer and shop sections show how effectively the original Art Deco inspired interior decorations worked. The seating and staging arrangements with raking stalls and single balcony behind are obviously based on recent cinema design and on a desire to allow the audience an uninterrupted view of the stage. While the auditorium has today been superseded, by the rapid pace of change in theatrical production since the 1950s, it was originally based on the best and most up-to-date ideas about theatre planning then available. Elizabeth Scott specifically visited most of the contemporary theatres in Europe and the earnestness of her research is reflected in the paper that she wrote on the history of theatre planning for the Architectural Review.

  14.  There can be absolutely no doubt about the importance and correct grading of this nationally significant building. It is worth mentioning that since the Second World War no other theatre, except perhaps the Royal Court Theatre on Sloane Square, has seen the production of so many ground breaking and significant theatrical productions and this extra historical importance must reinforce all these arguments.


  What is English Heritage's role with regard to the RST. What powers and responsibilities does it have? What are the significant levers available to you?

  15.  English Heritage has three principal roles in relation to the proposed redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

    (a)  Provision of informal advice to the RSC and the local planning authority

  16.  English Heritage has an informal role in pre-planning application discussions with the RSC and the local authorities, advising on the conservation issues which need to be taken into account in any redevelopment proposals. We have been engaged in such discussions for several years, and most particularly over the last 12 months during the preparation of the RSC's Feasibility Study. As well as regular meetings attended by staff in Stratford with the RSC, its professional advisers and the local authorities, the theatre company has made a presentation in London to our Historic Built Environment Advisory Committee. Some members of the Committee have also visited Stratford to see the theatre and the issues involved at first hand. English Heritage fully expects this constructive dialogue to continue as the RSC and its advisers translate the aspirations of the Feasibility Study into architectural form and prepare submissions for planning permission and listed building consent.

    (b)  Formal consultee and adviser to the local planning authority

  17.  Stratford on Avon District Council has a statutory duty to notify English Heritage of planning applications including any of the following:

    —  Proposals to undertake works to a grade I or grade II* listed building.

    —  Proposals involving total demolition of a grade II listed building, or demolition of a principal external wall of such a building, or demolition of all or a substantial part of the interior.

    —  Proposals affecting the setting of a grade I or II* listed building.

    —  Proposals for new development in a conservation area where the area of ground to be developed exceeds 1,000 square metres or the new development is more than 20 metres high.

  18.  The RST is grade II* and located in a conservation area and therefore English Heritage will have the opportunity to comment formally on any proposals to alter or demolish the building, as well as on plans for a new building on the site. The Council will have a duty to consider English Heritage's views, along with those of any other consultees, when reaching its decision about whether to approve relevant planning applications.

    (c)  Conservation adviser to the Secretary of State

  19.  If Stratford on Avon District Council is minded to approve any proposals for alteration, extension or demolition of the RST they must first notify the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions of their intention. The Secretary of State will decide whether he wishes to call the application in for his own determination. In coming to this decision he will refer the application to English Heritage and seek our advice on the proposals.

  20.  Although English Heritage is a statutory consultee in the planning process, it is not a decision-maker. Our role is to advise the local authority on what we consider to be the most appropriate response to any planning proposal; we are equally able to advise the Secretary of State on whether any application should be called in or approved without call-in. We have no "levers of power" as such but rely on our reputation for professional excellence in influencing the decision-making bodies.

What other organisations have a role?

  21.  The RSC has voluntarily engaged the Twentieth Century Society (the lead national amenity society for modern buildings) and the Theatres Trust (an expert voluntary body which must by statute be consulted over planning proposals for works to theatres) in discussions prior to preparation of the Feasibility Study.

  22.  If the RSC applies for total or partial demolition of the listed theatre, Stratford On Avon District Council will be statutorily obliged to consult the Twentieth Century Society and other national amenity societies (Georgian Group, Victorian Society, etc). The applications must also be advertised on site and in the local press, giving both the local community and any other parties with an interest in the future of the RST an opportunity to comment on the proposals. If the Council is minded to approve the applications the tenor, weight and authority of these third party representations may well influence the decision of the Secretary of State on whether or not to call in the application for decision.

  23.  Other organisations with a role will include the Environment Agency (a statutory consultee because of the proximity of the site to the River Avon flood plain); the local highway authority (impact on the road system) and potentially CABE (advice on the merits of the replacement building in the event of total demolition).


  24.  English Heritage concurs with the assessment of the RSC's Conservation Plan that the most significant surviving elements of the 1932 building are the foyer area and the front elevation, and the riverside elevation. We also agree with their assessment of the historic significance of the Swan Theatre and the desirability of retaining that virtually intact in any redevelopment. English Heritage is also conscious of the architectural and historic significance of the external form of the building overall as the expression of a particular school of Art Deco design.

  25.  English Heritage recognises the shortcomings of the present building for both audiences and performers; namely inadequate backstage and front of house facilities; and the shortcomings of the auditorium. The auditorium has been substantially altered over the years and, with the exception of a few Art Deco doors, retains no features of historic significance. The backstage area retains some items of industrial archaeological interest, viz the understage lift and the remains of the original 1932 rolling stage. Both of these features have long been redundant and could be safeguarded by careful recording and possible relocation to a museum. None of the remaining features in either the auditorium or the backstage area are seen as a constraint to any redevelopment.

  26.  In the light of this analysis English Heritage has consistently advised the RSC over recent months that it would wish to see the historically significant parts of the listed building retained but that it sees scope for considerable remodelling of the auditorium and backstage areas to create the facilities and amenities which the RSC are seeking. The possibility of enlarging the shell of the building by extending the least significant elevation (that towards Waterside Road) has not been discounted, nor has the possibility of increasing the height of the present building to accommodate a new fly tower.

  27.  In offering this advice English Heritage has been mindful of government guidance set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 15 Planning and the Historic Environment (PPG15). PPG15 expresses a policy presumption against the demolition of listed buildings unless a wholly exceptional case can be made, and stresses the need for any alteration to or intervention in a listed building to respect its special character and interest. We have emphasised that any work to the RST should be of the highest architectural standard consistent with its grade II* listing. An architectural "fudge" or other design compromise would not be acceptable to English Heritage.

  28.  English Heritage believes that it would be possible to remodel parts of the Elizabeth Scott building to create a high quality modern theatre. Whether this would meet all the aspirations of the RSC remains to be seen but we are keen to enter dialogue with them on this subject. No substantive discussions have been held on the matter yet. We are aware that the RSC have themselves looked at the issue in the Feasibility Study in the context of achieving their optimum solution for a new theatre and concluded that it would not be possible. The RSC have in the last few weeks engaged consultants independent of the main design team to explore the possibilities of adapting the present theatre to meet their brief and to address other criteria which the Secretary of State would expect to see examined in the event of an application for listed building consent being submitted (a PPG15 Study). Staff have held a preliminary meeting with the consultants and further meetings are to be arranged.


  29.  English Heritage was originally involved in discussions with the RSC over their redevelopment proposals in 1996-97. Since January 2001 staff have been engaged in monthly "Planning" meetings with the RSC, its architectural and planning advisers, and officers from Stratford on Avon District Council and Warwickshire County Council. These discussions have reviewed the implications of locating a new theatre on 14 sites in Stratford; the process and likely timetable for any planning and listed building consents associated with the RSC's redevelopment proposals; the linkages with the separate Public Realm working parties; and the heritage implications of erecting a new build theatre, as opposed to retention and remodelling of the present listed building. The progress of these discussions has been reported regularly to English Heritage's Historic Built Environment Advisory Committee, which has received a presentation from the RSC's Development Team. Some members of the Committee, including its chairman, have visited Stratford to see the theatre at first hand.

  30.  English Heritage formally communicated the views of the Advisory Committee (ie that we recognise the shortcomings of the present building; accept in principle the need for change; draw attention to the need for this to be considered against the policies of PPG15; and strongly suggest the RSC consider how the present building might be adapted) to the RSC in September 2001 prior to the completion and publication of the Feasibility Study.

  31.  English Heritage has read the Feasibility Study carefully and is conscious that it is a statement of aspirations. We were considerably surprised in the light of our previous discussions to read that the full demolition of the 1932 theatre is considered unavoidable in order to create a new principal playhouse. While the Study rehearses the case for demolition, as opposed to remodelling the existing building, neither English Heritage nor the local planning authority have had an opportunity to test the strength of the arguments with the RSC. The Feasibility Study does not take proper account of English Heritage views, or the Government's planning policies as set out in PPG15. In the absence of a PPG15 study, we do not consider that a case for demolition has been adequately made and we are not able to accept the Feasibility Study proposals as they stand. At the request of our Commission, the Acting Chief Executive has communicated this view to the Arts Council for England.


  32.  English Heritage has expressed its wish to continue in dialogue with the RSC and its consultants as its proposals evolve and understand that this desire is reciprocated by the theatre company. We shall continue to liaise with the local authority for whom the scheme is both a potential flagship development, and also in their role as development control authority.

  33.  Most of this work will be delegated to staff but it is anticipated that regular reports will be made to our Advisory Committee at key stages in the evolution of the project (eg the completion of the PPG15 study and as architectural drawings are produced for the new facilities whether new build or remodelling).

  34.  It is understood that the local authority has made contact with CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and that they will be invited to comment on any emerging proposals in so far as they impact on the townscape of Stratford.

  35.  Because of the high profile of the project it is likely that the final view of English Heritage on any development proposals (either remodelling or new build) will be taken by its Commission.


  36.  The South Bank Centre (SBC) comprises the Royal Festival Hall and, in a separate complex of buildings, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery. Taken with the Royal National Theatre and the National Film Theatre, it is an integral part of one of Europe's premier arts centres.

  37.  Within the South Bank's estate, the Royal Festival Hall is very much seen as the focus of the South Bank Centre and, in heritage terms, it is the most important building both architecturally and historically. Designed and built in the remarkably short space of two years, it opened to become the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain held in 1951 to celebrate the centenary of the first international exhibition held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. It was designed by a group of London County Council architects under the direction of the London County Council Architect, (Sir) Robert Matthew. To lead the design team, Robert Matthew brought in (Sir) Leslie Martin, an architect with a reputation as an intellectual modernist. It was Leslie Martin who is credited with coming up with the concept of the "egg in the box", the device by which the auditorium is raised above the principal foyer spaces to insulate it from external noise and make maximum use of the extremely tight site.

  38.  Pevsner's The Buildings of England — London 2: South rightly identifies the Royal Festival Hall as "the first major British Public building designed in the contemporary style of architecture". It was listed grade I on 29 March 1988 and was in the first tranche of post-war buildings to be added to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

  39.  The Royal Festival Hall was extended in 1964 under Leslie Martin's direction as part of the creation of the South Bank Arts Centre. This included the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery, all of which are connected within one building complex and linked to the Royal Festival Hall by elevated walkways that link, in turn, with Waterloo Bridge (listed grade II*) and the Hungerford footbridge. The design of the new complex reflected the then current vogue for Brutalist architecture with pre-cast concrete panels and exposed board-marked concrete being the primary facing materials.

  40.  The Queen Elizabeth Hall complex has been nominated for listing by English Heritage on more than one occasion but this recommendation has not been accepted by Ministers and the building remains unlisted.

  41.  The whole of the South Bank Centre is at the heart of the South Bank Conservation Area which also includes the South Bank Centre's immediate neighbours, Sir Denys Lasdun's Royal National Theatre (listed grade II*) and the former home of the LCC—and, later, the GLC—Ralph Knott's County Hall (also listed grade II*).


  42.  As in Stratford, English Heritage performs a number of roles in relation to the SBC:

    (a)  Provision of informal advice to the SBC and the local planning authority

  43.  English Heritage has an informal role in pre-application discussions with the SBC and the local authority, advising on the conservation issues which need to be taken into account in any redevelopment proposals. English Heritage staff have been intimately involved in the development of the current Rick Mather masterplan for the South Bank.

    (b)  Formal consultee and adviser to the local planning authority

  44.  English Heritage's powers in London differ from those it holds outside the capital. London local authorities have a statutory duty to notify English Heritage of planning applications including any of the following:

    —  Proposals to undertake works to a grade I or grade II* listed building

    —  Proposals involving demolition of a grade II listed building, or demolition of a principal external wall of such a building, or the demolition of all or substantial part of the interior.

    —  Proposals involving grade II listed railway stations, theatres, cinemas or bridges across the Thames.

    —  Proposals affecting a listed building owned by a local authority in its area where application is by a third party.

    —  Proposals affecting the setting of a grade I or II* listed building.

    —  Proposals in the curtilage of a grade II listed building affecting its setting where the area of ground to be developed exceeds 1,000 square metres or the new development is more than 20 metres high.

    —  Proposals not in the curtilage which affect the setting of a listed building.

    —  Proposals for new development in a conservation area where the area of ground to be developed exceeds 1,000 square metres or the new development is more than 20 metres high.

  45.  In addition, London councils are obliged to inform English Heritage of proposals involving total or substantial demolition of buildings in conservation areas.

  46.  In the case of proposals which require Listed Building Consent, English Heritage retains full powers of direction. This means that whilst a London local authority can refuse Listed Building Consent without reference to English Heritage, it may not grant consent without English Heritage authorisation. Therefore any alterations to the Royal Festival Hall would need the approval of English Heritage. In addition, English Heritage would have the opportunity to comment on any proposals for demolition of any unlisted structures in the South Bank Conservation Area, or for development that would affect the setting of the listed Royal Festival Hall, Royal National Theatre and Waterloo Bridge.


  47.  Over the years, a number of masterplans have been prepared which have sought to update and enhance the existing facilities of the South Bank Centre but none has so far progressed beyond the planning stage. The architect Rick Mather has drawn up the latest masterplan and English Heritage has been intimately involved in the process of his selection and the drawing up of his proposals.

  48.  We have advised on what role the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery complex might have in the long-term future of the south bank arts complex and have advocated retention of these buildings. We have also been advising on the future of Jubilee Gardens. This is a key area of public open space within the South Bank Conservation Area and is designated Metropolitan Open Land. The Mather masterplan identifies the Gardens as a potential development site, suggesting that they could be raised and inclined providing space underneath to accommodate the British Film Institute and other arts related organisations. English Heritage is broadly supportive of the Mather masterplan. We do however have concerns regarding the "blade" buildings proposed for each end of the South Bank arts complex because of their potential impact on the setting of the Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo Bridge and views up and down the Thames.

  49.  The Mather masterplan clearly presents an exciting prospect that may be achievable within the heritage constraints that exist. However, the proposal to develop on Metropolitan Open Land has attracted considerable local criticism and the future of the masterplan proposals remains far from assured.

  50.  In the shorter term, the architects Allies and Morrison have drawn up proposals for the repair and refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall. Their proposals are guided by a comprehensive Conservation Plan prepared by the architects five years ago and accepted by English Heritage as being a model of its kind. Perhaps the most controversial part of Allies and Morrison's plans, however, is the construction of a new building that has come to be known as the "Liner Building". Constructed in the narrow gap between the walkway that skirts the south fac"ade of the Hall and the southern approach viaduct to Hungerford Bridge, the proposed building would provide much needed office accommodation for the South Bank Centre's staff. This new accommodation (which, for sound management reasons, needs to be an integral part of the South Bank Centre) will allow former public spaces within the Royal Festival Hall, requisitioned over the years for office use, to be returned to public use. What makes it so contentious is that it relocates the service road to the Hall to the south side of Hungerford viaduct and takes up a small area of Metropolitan Open Land currently used as the SBC's car park. This is being strongly resisted by local residents groups and other parties and a decision by Lambeth Council on the applications for planning permission and listed building consent is keenly awaited.

  51.  English Heritage has made it clear that it welcomes Allies and Morrison's proposals as being fully in accordance with the emerging masterplan and the Conservation Plan. The works to the Festival Hall itself will improve disabled access throughout the building and will do much to recapture the "clarity" and architectural integrity of the building as envisaged by the building's original designers. An integral part of this process is returning "lost" spaces back to public use and, for this reason, we accept the case for the "Liner Building".


  52.  English Heritage is the Government's lead body for the historic environment. Our role in the planning system is designed to make us an effective advocate for England's built heritage. Our duty is to use that role to ensure that the assets of the past are properly considered; that, where possible, historic buildings are adapted or sensitively re-used; and that new architecture is designed to the highest quality. We do not stand against change, but instead work to ensure considered and managed change to England's historic environment.

  53.  Both at Stratford and the South Bank English Heritage staff have worked flexibly and openly with others from the earliest stages of planning discussions to highlight important conservation issues and to explore options for resolving them. In the case of the RST we have been quick to recognise the problems of the building and to identify the extensive scope for re-modelling. We have also been fair and open in our communication of Government policy that demolition of listed buildings rightly demands full consideration, as well as a persuasive case made about the exceptional circumstances meriting demolition. In the absence of a PPG15 study, or any architectural designs for the proposed new theatre, neither of these elements is in place. English Heritage looks forward to continuing its close cooperation with the RSC and to the development of a mutually acceptable plan for the theatre's future.

February 2002

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