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Government withdraws cash for new London concert hall

Conductor Simon Rattle
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The government has abandoned its support for a new £278 million concert hall on the Museum of London site next to the Barbican

The ambitious new venue for the London Symphony Orchestra no longer represents ‘value for money’, according to the government.

The surprise U-turn comes nearly one year after a government-backed feasibility study endorsed the scheme, which would see Powell & Moya’s 1976 museum flattened and replaced by a new £278 million Centre for Music.

A government spokesman told The Guardian: ‘London is already home to world class culture and music venues, from the iconic Royal Albert Hall to the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre.

’[The government] provided funding to consider the business case for a new London concert hall to add to this mix, but has concluded that it does not currently offer value for money for taxpayers and is not affordable. Therefore it will no longer fund contributions to this project. We know this will disappoint those who are working hard to deliver this project and we wish them well with developing alternative plans for financing.’

Drawn up by Arup and Arup Associates among others, the feasibility study said London lacked a venue with ‘brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth’ and risked ‘falling behind other major cities with the proliferation of outstanding new 21st-century halls across the world’.

The report echoed the concerns aired previously by conductor Simon Rattle, who will become musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra from 2017, and has previously spoken critically of the quality of London’s performance venues.

Commenting on the U-turn, City of London Corporation policy chairman Mark Boleat said: ‘This is very disappointing news. We believe the government should have waited to see whether a business case could have been developed before making this announcement.’

A spokesperson for the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, added: ‘This is bad news for London. World-class cities need world-class music venues like the Centre for Music. This looks like a vote of no confidence in London from the government.’

The Conservative Party manifesto for last year’s General Election included a pledge to support ‘proposals to develop a modern world class concert hall for London’. The government pledged £5.5 million towards funding a full business case for the project. It is understood around £1.25 million has been spent with the remaining funds now returned to the exchequer.

The proposed redevelopment of the Barbican site follows the planned relocation of the Museum of London to a new venue designed by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan in West Smithfield. A major international design competition, rumoured to be organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, was expected to be held for the new music complex.

In February Léon Krier proposed an alternative new home for the London Symphony Orchestra in a new classical-inspired building on the edge of Regent’s Park

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Shame on the Government for abandoning their election manifesto to support proposals for an essential facility for London which lags behind Birmingham, Cardiff etc in boasting a first-class concert hall. I guess they're too seriously compromised already by the Garden Bridge and Heathrow fiascos, and have simply lost their nerve. Although Barbican, Royal Festival, Royal Albert and Cadogan Halls are enjoyable venues, all have serious acoustic flaws which prevent fine appreciation of the excellent music making that takes place there. Best wishes to Simon Rattle, all the London Orchestras and all their supporters who deserve better treatment. Any generous philanthropists out there?

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