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Locals slam Mather over 'flawed' South Bank plans

Rick Mather's multi-million pound masterplan for the South Bank had a rocky ride last week when local groups attacked the architect's proposed 'tilted' park over a new national film and television school on Jubilee Gardens as an abuse of the site's status as designated Metropolitan Open Space land.

Emma Winkley, local planning adviser from the Waterloo Community Development Group representing local residents, slammed Mather for 'missing the point' with his plans for the multi-storey facilities, including space for the BFI Film Centre, a multiplex cinema, a theatre museum and possibly car parking under the new 2.5ha of sloping parkland. 'It is designated Metropolitan Open Land, which is a national designation that is the same as Green Belt, ' she told an audience of locals and interested parties, gathered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of a consultation exercise.

'What would we think about a developer building on Hyde Park or St James's Park three storeys down and three, six, or eight storeys high?'

Winkley also branded the 'flawed' masterplan, which she claimed had risen from 70,000m 2of accommodation to 150,000m 2, as a 'gross over-development' of the site. 'It's too big and it's greedy, ' she added.

Mather architect Kevin Allsop, who fielded questions from the floor after Mather showed the audience a new 'flythrough' computer simulation of the proposals, told the AJ that the park was an abuse of the designation, but that it had precedent in planning law.

Lambeth Borough Council director of regeneration Mike Hayes acknowledged that the park idea was controversial but commended Mather's plan as being 'bold, brave, and ambitious'. And, he said, because it is a phased development across the site, it is also 'realistic'.

He added: 'It forces us to think out of the box and turn a degraded environment into something of the highest European quality. We will deliver better public realm facilities and one way or another there's going to be a park here.'

The event, called the South Bank Forum, was designed to look at and discuss Mather's draft masterplan, along with Space Syntax and Frank Duffy, who is overseeing architectural competitions for three elements of the plan. Chaired by Channel Four News presenter Jon Snow, the debate touched on concerns over the controversial 'blade' or 'gateway' buildings proposed under the scheme.

Some questioners felt that the 'eyesore' buildings - one proposed near the Hungerford Bridge to act as a screen from the railway and with a potential 'mixed use' tenancy, and the other near the Waterloo Bridge as a hotel - were simply commercial ventures planned to pay for the wider scheme. Some even compared it to the Millennium Dome in terms of commercial involvement, and former Channel Four arts correspondent Stephen Phillips warned against the area becoming 'a Sock Shop of the arts' with big chain stores setting up anonymous-looking branches.

He added that the scheme, which would cost more than £150 million, needed more thought in terms of new arts provision but was a better vision than the Farrell scheme or Rogers' glass wave before it.

Mather admitted that the blade buildings would provide revenue and added that he had included them to 'get out of the conundrum' about pulling down the heritage buildings on the site. This way they could be adapted. Mather said that the ten-storey hotel would probably have a viewing platform, restaurants and a cafe at the top with public access. Hayes pledged that the blade buildings had to be 'of the very highest possible quality'.

Forum attendees also raised fears about increased congestion and parking, the extent of consultation with other groups, disabled access and measures for cycling.

The Mather masterplan seeks to bring much of the development to ground level with an extensive use of glass and 'active uses' to animate street level, creating Belvedere Road as the 'spine' of the development, as well as the new park feature, two new public squares and blade buildings. It also seeks to improve pedestrian flows and permeability of the site and envisages first a new, Lotterybacked £50 million refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall's foyers, public spaces and auditorium by Allies and Morrison. Work starts next summer. 'The idea is to make the South Bank a real piece of city again, ' said Allsop.

SBC chief executive Karsten Witt said he was 'committed to creating the park'.

He also revealed that he had brought in light artist James Turrell to do a feasibility study for a new lighting scheme for the South Bank, perhaps extending to Somerset House across the Thames 'to make it one common experience'.

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