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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 12:21 GMT
A new kind of heritage
GPO tower
Post Office Tower - now an official national treasure
A TV mast in West Yorkshire is all set for listed building status. But is this really what tourists on the trail of Olde England want to see, asks BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

It seems the BT Tower in London and at least one TV mast - Emley Moor in West Yorkshire - are heading for listed building status.

The move, by English Heritage, appears to be part of a drive to preserve physical traces of the first phases of the modern communications revolution.

TV tower
Big Ben it ain't: Emley Moor TV tower, West Yorkshire
Six other communications structures are also under consideration by the preservation body.

Although the idea of "heritage" is more often associated with stately homes and thatched cottages, English Heritage's director of conservation, Oliver Pearcey, says there is nothing odd about the listing proposal.

"We are trying to recognise buildings of special architectural or historical importance - which is what we always do," says Mr Pearcey.

"We consider these structures to be of intrinsic worth - because of both their style and quality of design and construction."

But not everybody would agree - especially those who have long wished to see the BT Tower, née Post Office Tower, flattened on the grounds it is an unsightly example of 1960s Thunderbirds-style architecture.

More traditional listing - Cliveden stately home
Architectural expert Giles Worsley, of the Daily Telegraph, says: "It's a pretty bad building though it does have a certain '60s kitsch charm - like the miniskirt or the mini car."

However, Mr Worsley reserves most criticism for English Heritage itself, which may have become "obsessed" with listing buildings, he says.

"It's getting to the stage that you used to have during National Service, a case of 'if it moves salute it, if it doesn't, then paint it'. Here's it's a matter of 'if it doesn't move, list it'. People have to accept that some buildings come and go."

Among the more unusual buildings already listed by English Heritage are prefabs and disused factories.

We are not going to get extra business from people coming to see a listed television mast ... not for a hundred years or so

English Tourist Board
Modern edifices such as the National Theatre and the Barbican centre also have listed status, despite being criticised in their time as brutal modernist blots on the landscape.

And currently under consideration at English Heritage are structures as diverse as nursery schools, the halls of residence at the University of East Anglia and council housing estates.

Yet there are some limits. Despite being possibly the most famous industrial building in the country the BNFL reactor at Sellafield in Cumbria is not listed.

Power stations are being looked at separately, says a spokeswoman, although she admitted Sellafield would have a "very strong case" for being listed.

Not listed - Sellafield nuclear plant
Something that might improve its chances is the fact that, thanks to its visitor centre, Sellafield is already something of a tourist attraction.

According to the experts, good architecture and tourism go together like Eiffel and Tower.

A prime example, says the English Tourist Board, is the Tate Modern gallery, based in the converted Bankside power station on London's south bank.

"It is fair to say that a few years ago that Bankside would have been thought of as an eyesore. But now it's stunning and big attraction for visitors."

bingo hall
Listed: A classic 1937 cinema now used as a bingo hall
However, the ETB's professed zeal for industrial Britain has not yet made it online. The company's website prefers to show a more traditional side, with pictures of half-timbered Tudor houses, Stonehenge, Big Ben, Shakespeare and gothic churches.

"We are not going to get any extra business from people coming to see a listed television mast," a spokesperson said. "At least, not for another hundred years or so."

Indeed, a completely non-scientific survey of opinion in the United States conducted by this reporter, found the official inclusion of Emley Moor TV tower as part of the UK heritage may do little to draw custom from across the Atlantic.

"A radio transmitter mast? You're kidding aren't you?," said one Bostonian, adding:

"Why would I want to look at that? Are you nuts?"

See also:

07 Dec 99 | Entertainment
Plan to protect picture palaces
30 Oct 00 | UK
What is heritage?
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