Context 154 - May 2018

C O N T E X T 1 5 4 : M A Y 2 0 1 8 39 TIMOTHY CANTELL The revolution that lasted It is 50 years since the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 was passed, bringing effective protection of listed buildings for the first time. It was the key to the conservation revolution. This year has a little-noticed golden jubilee. Even mention of the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 in many circles will prompt mention only of structure plans, action areas and public participation in planning. Yet tucked away in Part V, if you got that far, was a revolution in heritage conservation. It was the most significant measure of all the acts from the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 to the present. True, listed buildings were provided for in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, but the protection given to them was slight. True, the Civic Amenities Act 1967 was far-reaching and popular, but conservation areas were more titles than teeth. Protection prior to 1968 was deficient. Some controls for buildings of special architectural or historic interest came in theTown and Country PlanningAct 1932 but the main provisions were in theTown and Country Planning Act 1947. Anyone wishing to demolish a listed building had to give two months’ notice to the local planning authority. The authority could then either allow the works to proceed or make a building preservation order (BPO). If a BPO were made, the building was not yet safe.The BPO had to be confirmed by the minister.And if it was confirmed, it was then open for application to be made to demolish. Further, if that was refused by the local authority, appeal could be made to the minister. It is not surprising that there was no appeal against the failure to make a BPO. Under this regime listed buildings could be removed easily.The redevelopment of part of the High Street in Bath, close to the Abbey and opposite the Guildhall, was typical of what was going in many towns and cities in the 1947–68 period. 24 High Street was listed. It was early 18th century, with a fine staircase, and even a curious stone-panelled room possibly linked to John Wood. The Bath Preservation Trust archives have files on the redevelopment but there is no record of any moves against demolition. Documents relate only to the suitability – height, scale, materials – of the proposed replacement. The Georgian Group and Royal Fine Art Commission joined in, again focusing on the quality of the new, not the loss of the old. The trust, bemoaned The Sack of Bath , ‘failed to preserve the west facades of the old High Street where today the hideous sham mansards of painted aluminium and the ill-spaced windows of the Harvey block disgrace the heart of the city’. True, but the council was bent on redevelopment so would never have sought a BPO. In what for many was the most grievous loss in Elevation and staircase of 24 High Street, Bath, a listed building demolished in 1964 without fuss