The government is about to cut some of the red tape surrounding urban regeneration by overhauling the system for listing buildings of historical interest
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is to publish a consultation paper suggesting changes to the listing system in the next few weeks. Culture secretary Tessa Jowell will argue at the launch that the present arrangements are "creaky" and need to be modernised.

Whitehall sources said the paper would suggest an end to "spot" listing. This is a tactic used by conservation bodies to prevent a building being demolished, which can hold up regeneration schemes.

The document will propose the transfer of responsibility for grade II-listed buildings from English Heritage to local authorities. This would give councils more freedom to harmonise their conservation and development strategies.

It will also recommend that the decision whether to list a building should take into account its social and economic qualities.

The report will propose that councils be given control of grade II buildings

A joint committee, headed by English Heritage and architecture watchdog CABE, has been set up to oversee the proposals.

Statutory conservation bodies are gearing up to respond to the proposals. The amenity societies, which include the Twentieth Century Society and the Ancient Monument Society, are to meet for the first time next week to formulate their policy.

How the system works now

A building is listed after a recommendation to the culture department by a member of the public. The recommendation is then investigated by English Heritage and a final decision on whether to list is made by the culture secretary. There are three grades of listing – grades I, II* and II. Grade I is for buildings that should remain essentially untouched. Grade II* is for buildings where particular elements should be maintained; grade II is for building with a type or style that should not be greatly altered.