Will Alsop's first commercial project in the City of London has been held up by 'a bunch of luvvies' whose campaign is the largest ever against any development in the Square Mile.
The Corporation of London has deferred a decision on the £55 million development at Puddle Dock pending further environmental studies. The Save London Theatres Campaign and the Theatres Trust oppose the scheme, which involves the demolition of the 1950s Mermaid Theatre and the building housing it.
This latest delay follows 18 months of negotiations between the city and developer Blackfriars, which has offered £6 million towards theatre projects as compensation for the loss of the Mermaid.
But Jon Levitt of the Save London's Theatres Campaign is determined to save the 600-seat theatre and has called for it to be listed. If the corporation gives Alsop's scheme the go-ahead, Levitt told the AJ he will push for the secretary of state to call it in. 'It's a terrific functional building and a fantastic theatre. We believe it's a very special space indeed, ' he said.
Quango and government advisor the Theatres Trust is accepting demolition of the building but is 'not happy' with the amount of compensation on offer. Director Peter Longman said the cost of replacing the theatre would be closer to £12 million, and he called for a guarantee that theatre exclusively would benefit from the pay-off.
Longman also claimed that the Corporation of London was treating the development as an exception to its unitary development plan (UDP). As freeholder for the site, the corporation had an interest in seeing the plans implemented, he said.
However, Alsop - who is fighting redevelopment of another corporation-owned site, Spitalfields Market - was adamant that the theatre was not worth saving. 'Architecturally it's nothing, ' he said. Alsop, who has produced a masterplan for the larger area, asked: 'Are we willing to accept - in one of the wealthiest bits of land by the river - a 250m stretch of some of the ugliest buildings facing it?'
Stewart Bailey of developer Blackfriars said the theatre was 'completely unviable' and described the Save London's Theatre Campaign as 'a bunch of luvvies'. He said their determination to save the building was a 'complete waste of time'.
Bailey added that the site was one of the most difficult in London and praised 'stunningly creative' Alsop's 'radical' solution. 'We believe he's going to be the next Norman Foster. We'll always patronise leading-edge architects. We believe that design sells.'
Alsop said the commercial Puddle Dock scheme will contribute to a broadening of the work accepted by his practice. The three-and-a-half-storey building will provide 25,000m 2of office space with the main floor offering a potential trading floor.