The redevelopment of London’s Southbank Centre has been temporarily pulled from planning in a ‘last ditch’ attempt to find extra cash to save the scheme
The surprise move comes just weeks after London mayor Boris Johnson’s bombshell announcement he would only support Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ (FCBS) proposed £120 million overhaul if controversial plans to relocate the skate park from under the Brutalist landmark were ditched.
The Southbank Centre has always argued that transforming the much-loved Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft into restaurants was crucial to funding its ambitious ‘Festival Wing’ revamp of the 1967 riverside landmark.
FCBS’s 28,000m² plans – which proposed a glazed ‘liner’ building and a semi-transparent, box-like ‘sky pavilion’ above the Brutalist structure – involved relocating the skateboarders 120 metres away beneath Hungerford Bridge.
Rick Haythornthwaite, chairman of Southbank Centre, said: ‘The case for closing the project down right now is compelling but we feel we owe a last ditch revival attempt to the many people that have supported us over the past four years of planning, not least the Arts Council England.
The case for closing the project down right now is compelling
He added: ‘Johnson and Lambeth Council have both made clear that they wish to see the scheme proceed and we look forward to hearing their ideas. But we are under no illusions. We have been handed a massive challenge and we don’t yet see how we will make it work – it is not as if we haven’t already explored numerous options.’
He concluded: ‘Our battle has never been with the skateboarders, whom we have welcomed and guaranteed a future on our site. The battle has always been against the economics of bringing a set of crumbling and inefficient buildings into the 21st century, in the context of declining public funding.’
The huge planning application was initially withdrawn from planning in July amid criticism from CABE, English Heritage, The Twentieth Century Society and the neighbouring National Theatre.
The revised plans – resubmitted in December but still opposed by English Heritage and The Twentieth Century Society – were due to go before Lambeth Council’s planning committee this month. The plans will however now go on hold for three months in a bid to ‘find new answers’.
According to the Southbank Centre, the Festival Wing project would deliver ‘major benefits’, including full refurbishment of the London County Council-designed Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery which are said to be ‘in desperate need of repair’.
Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society said: ‘We continue to believe the proposals for two major extensions at the Southbank Centre will overwhelm the existing buildings and are fundamentally flawed. We urge the Southbank Centre to use this pause as an opportunity to re-think their plans. This iconic twentieth century site needs fresh thinking and a more sympathetic development approach – our alternative proposals show how this could be achieved.’
A spokesperson for the Southbank Centre said: ‘In terms of the impact on inclusive art programmes, the Festival Wing would, if complete, provide free art and culture for two million people each year. This includes educational opportunities for 150,000 young people, many of whom would be drawn — based on our existing work with local schools — from disadvantaged local communities. We also work with disadvantaged communities overseas through our festivals.
‘Furthermore, all our evidence suggests that free access in itself breaks through the barriers that often keep people from engaging with art and culture.
‘Southbank Centre already has very significant experience in delivering education and free access to art and culture. Most of the increase we hope to create would be delivered through the new buildings. So if we cannot achieve the full scheme, these ambitions must obviously be considered at risk’.
Previous story (AJ 16.01.14)
Southbank plans face major rethink after Boris backs skatepark
The Southbank Centre is to review its proposed £120 million redevelopment yet again after the London mayor ‘unexpectedly’ backed bids to save the skatepark beneath it
Yesterday Boris Johnson surprised the project team by saying he would only support Feilden Clegg Bradley’s (FCBS) overhaul of the riverside complex if controversial plans to relocate the skatepark from under the Brutalist landmark were ditched.
The Southbank Centre wants to redevelop the undercroft, which has been used by skaters since 1976, to build new commercial units which would help finance the rest of the 28,000m² Festival Wing project.
The scheme, with its glazed ‘liner’ building and semi-transparent sky pavilion, has already been redesigned once following criticism from Cabe, The Twentieth Century Society and the neighbouring National Theatre.
A spokeswoman for the Southbank Centre said: ‘The mayor’s statement was unexpected. And as a result the board will have to review the future of the project, as keeping the skate space where it is leaves us with a funding gap.’
We must consider the implications for the future of the project
‘We look forward to hearing how [Boris Johnson] intends to fill this financial gap [which] stands between us and our ability to provide free art and culture to millions of Londoners. In the meantime, [we] must consider the implications for the future of the project if he fails to do so.’
Skater and professor of architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture Iain Borden, who helped draw up the brief for a replacement skatepark under the Hungerford Bridge (see AJ 10.10.13), was also critical of the Mayor’s decision (AJ 15.01.14).
He said: ‘It is a shame that Johnson seems to be recognising only half of the situation. While, many people, including myself, feel that in an ideal world it would be great if skateboarding could stay in its original location, the new skate space is just 120m away and is also undercover, larger and better to skate.
‘It gives skateboarding and other urban arts a permanent home at the Southbank Centre, where they will continue to flourish. This is in fact an incredibly generous offer by the Southbank Centre, unmatched by any other ever made in the world of skateboarding.’
However Henrietta Billings, senior conservation adviser at the Twentieth Century Society, welcomed the mayor’s comments: ‘Skateboarding activity brings a unique visual and cultural interest to this part of the South Bank and allows a large audience to appreciate the sculptural form of the concrete mushroom columns of the space.’
The Society has been campaigning against the FCBS plans, claiming the ‘proposed massive extensions’ would ‘overwhelm one of the best groups of brutalist buildings in the UK, if not the world’.