The South Bank Centre has taken Lambeth Borough Council to task for delaying its Allies and Morrison-designed £50 million Royal Festival Hall scheme, 'frustrating' and 'depressing' the arts organisation's board in the process.
The project was due to be heard at a planning committee on Tuesday evening (15 January), but Lambeth has again postponed the meeting until March.
Maya Even, vice-chairman of the South Bank Board, weighed in with her criticisms of the council to the government's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday morning, alongside SBC acting chief executive Paul Mason and redevelopment director Mike McCart.
'I was hoping that I could come before you today to tell you that in as little as three months' time we could be ready to put out tender contracts for the new Festival Square cafe, ' said Even.
'Instead, at the weekend, Lambeth council announced yet again that it was delaying its consideration of our planning application. All we want to do is restore a great building, which everybody loves, to its former glory.We have the money in place, we have the architects' plans in place.
We have the schedule in place and Lambeth has sat on this simple uncontroversial application for two years.'
Even said she could not tell the committee members how 'depressing and frustrating it feels' for herself, those making the application, and the resident orchestras. And this was intensified because other authorities had offered better support on similar key arts buildings projects:
Westminster helped the Royal Opera House through a 'long and difficult refurbishment', and Southwark gave its 'magnificent leadership and support' to Nick Serota and Tate Modern.
She said: 'All Lambeth can do for the Royal Festival Hall and a relatively straightforward uncomplicated proposal is give us delay after delay. We're like the horse at the starting gate - we've been raring to go for months, but the barrier won't open.'
But Lambeth planner Richard Saunders said the foyers project had been submitted on 7 November 2000 - considerably less than the alleged two years ago - with a major revision last June, and was too important to be considered in isolation from another Allies and Morrison scheme, the four-storey 'liner building'. Saunders told the AJ both projects will be judged together at a special council meeting in March because they impact on a Grade I-listed building and plans for what may be a major municipal park nearby.
Allies and Morrison's £50 million plan for the renovation of the Royal Festival Hall, revealed in May 2000 (AJ 18.5.00), involves a shake-up of the building's internal facilities including a new recital space, the restoration of the main entrance and a new cafe on Festival Square, as well as new retail facilities along the riverfront.
The news comes against a barrage of criticism being levelled at the South Bank Centre, ironically for its lack of progress on work on the important arts site being masterplanned by Rick Mather. The history of inactivity runs back to Lord Rogers' aborted 'glass roof ' design and the Terry Farrell masterplan before that in the 1980s.
The South Bank is keen to improve the 'crumbling buildings', poor access for the disabled, 'horrible loos' and 'artists facilities that are an embarrassment' and a site which is difficult to navigate. It wants the committee to help encourage the myriad stakeholders to work with it to search for a solution.And to formally recognise the South Bank's international and arts role with the need to re-establish its world leadership through redevelopment and refurbishment of the site.