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Livingstone fears South Bank 'ruin'

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London mayor Ken Livingstone has thrown a spanner in the works of the South Bank Centre's ambitious plans to redevelop Jubilee Gardens by declaring that he is 'opposed to development under open space' and fears that the project might 'ruin' the important public parkland site.

Livingstone was answering a question tabled at mayor's question time by Greater London Authority member for Lambeth & Southwark Valerie Shawcross, just days before the SBC signalled its commitment to reworking the site by revealing its shortlist of eight international practices (AJ 8.2.01).

'In principle, I am opposed to any form of development that puts development under open space, because there is usually some part of it which has to come up to the surface, such as ventilation ducts, escape stairs and vehicular ramps, ' said Livingstone.

'These tend to ruin public spaces and I cite Cavendish Square as a good example of this.'

Shawcross fears that the scheme would conflict with Livingstone's emerging Spatial Development Strategy. 'I'm very concerned about Jubilee Gardens but the underlying question is in making the whole redevelopment package stack up financially, ' she said. 'It could be that the SBC are overdeveloping and taking up public land to make up for a funding shortfall. They are being totally unrealistic.'

SBC commercial director Mike McCart said that the criticism was dealing in 'hypotheticals' since there is not yet an architect or scheme, and since the centre has only £25 million of the Lottery cash it needs to 'fill the funding gap' through mixed use. The budget for the first phase is between £70 million and £90 million and the SBC expects to decide on a new architect from the shortlist of eight including Zaha Hadid, Ian Ritchie, Rafael Vinoly and Future Systems in late April. The winner will work with masterplanner Rick Mather to create 'a world class open space' across the 2.4ha site between County Hall and Hungerford Bridge, incorporating a concert hall, space for the new British Film Institute and replacement car parking. The site will also include a commercial multiplex cinema, arts-related offices and retail. But the SBC said it was also too early to say to what degree building will take place beneath the parkland or what degree of slope - if any - will result. McCart added that there were anyway precedents for high quality parks around the world. 'I just wish people in this country had some imagination, ' he said. 'In Paris they do it all the time - it's just in this country that it seems to be like rocket science.'

Livingstone has the power to halt the scheme which is on Metropolitan Open Land, almost the equivalent of Green Belt. He said he will step in if designs 'rendered the open space difficult to use'.

A further complication for SBC is that the nearby Shell Centre is also masterplanning its future, with Eric Kuhne and developer Lend Lease. The two parties are in negotiations over what cultural facilities will appear in which masterplan.

However, key SBC staff are keen on the raised park idea, having been to see examples in Paris.

SBC chief executive Karsten Witt has also travelled to Chicago to see the lakefront Grant Park - a 127.6ha protected 'relevant model'. SBC staff met SOM, which has designed below-ground arts buildings in a new, £270 million, 6.6ha segment.

The park also has a condition that no permanent buildings can be built above it, although Frank Gehry has designed an open air music pavilion above ground, which is designated a 'sculpture'.

Below-ground facilities will include a 1,500-seat theatre when it opens this summer.

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