Thursday, 23 December 2010

Listing the Abbey Road crossing

Cynical planning lawyers like me will have raised an eyebrow or two on hearing the news that the pedestrian crossing in Abbey Road, near the former EMI recording studios in St John’s Wood has been listed.

I have not seen any formal documentation, but reports seem to indicate that this is a listing under the 1990 Listed Buildings Act (as opposed to scheduling as an ancient monument). Apparently it has been put in Grade II.

At the risk of a Scrooge-like failure to enter into the seasonal joy that this news must bring to Beatles fans throughout the world, it did occur to me to wonder whether the listing is lawful or legally effective.

As the Planning Encyclopedia, points out, only a “building” may be listed. So I turned first to the definition of “building” in section 91. This refers us to the principal Act (the T&CPA 1990), where section 336 tells us that “building” includes any structure or erection, and any part of a building, as so defined. It is stretching the definition somewhat to apply it to the painted surface of a road, although the ‘Belisha’ beacons associated with the crossing would, in themselves, appear to come within the definition as a ‘structure or erection’, but that would not appear to be sufficient to enable the term “building” to be applied to the pedestrian crossing in its totality.

Even if this listing is not ultra vires (as it may well be), there must be considerable doubt as to the extent of the listing. What does the pedestrian crossing comprise exactly? The listing description may possibly answer this question. But in relation to the crossing itself, one obvious question is whether the listing extends only to the painted markings on the road, or whether it also includes the top layer of the road surface or the whole underlying structure of the road under the crossing. And does it extend to the ‘zig’zag’ markings at the approach to the crossing, and the area of road to which those markings relate?

Finally, just to throw an even bigger pebble into the pond, what exactly is the historical justification for listing the existing pedestrian crossing in its current location? It has been pointed out that at the time when the crossing was famously photographed in 1969 as the Beatles crossed and re-crossed Abbey Road, the crossing was in a different position altogether! So this is not the historic “building” to which the listing is apparently intended to relate. In any case, the road surface is bound to have been replaced more than once since 1969, and the road markings have probably been repainted and possibly changed in their details on several occasions (not to mention replacement of the ‘Belisha’ beacons), quite apart from the whole crossing being in an entirely different place now. So all these factors suggest that what is there now is not the historic “building” which the Secretary of State purports to have listed.

So - Bah! Humbug!

[Oh, and by the way, Merry Christmas!]



  1. Major Loophole, Rtd.23 December 2010 at 19:28

    Ahh,...but it made 'em feel good!

  2. Talking of the legal ramifications...

    I take it now that the Highways Dept will have to apply for Listed Building Consent for any roadworks?

  3. Works which affect the character of the 'building' as a Listed Building will require Listed Building Consent. I can envisage some interesting memos between the Highways Department and the Planning Department as to whether the particular works in question do or do not affect the 'character' of the crossing in question. But to be realistic, the chances are that the highway engineers will just do the work anyway without even thinking of asking about it. It's what highway engineers do! It never occurs to them that any highway works might require specific consent.