Southbank Update

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Illustration by Rob Mathieson

Boris Johnson voiced his views recently on the value of preserving the Undercroft, recognising the part the space plays in London’s future. His voice has halted plans proposed for a restaurant gallery to replace this part of our history. Their application has been withdrawn. The valuable work the Long Live Southbank campaign have done this past year has paid off. The safety of the Undercroft amidst the Sounthbank Centre’s plans for development is a dilemma the general public have been made aware of and objected to on mass. Read this official statement from the Southbank Centre board. Will the space be safe to be enjoyed by future generations?…

Southbank Centre’s Board will withhold its planning application for the
Festival Wing, following Mayor Boris Johnson’s statement (15 January
2014) that the skate park should be retained in its current position in
any redevelopment. The Board will now undertake a final search for an
alternative funding model to keep the widely supported Festival Wing
redevelopment scheme alive, along with the promise of free art and
culture for millions each year.

The Mayor has the final say in the planning process and the scheme is
therefore unlikely to gain planning permission without the retention of
the skate park. The Mayor made clear that he supports the overall
ambition of the Festival Wing scheme and understands the funding
challenges faced by Southbank Centre.

The Festival Wing project would deliver major benefits, including full
refurbishment of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward
Gallery, which are in desperate need of repair. It would provide free
art and culture for two million people each year, including educational
opportunities for 150,000 young people, while creating nearly 700 new
jobs. It would include important new art spaces for musicians and
artists.

Southbank Centre has consistently said that – even with no new buildings
– the refurbishment of the 1960s buildings would require new commercial
income. It planned to achieve this in large part by moving the
skateboarders 120 metres along the riverside to a bigger, better space
to make way for new restaurants. This model of commercial partnership
proved successful with the redevelopment of Royal Festival Hall,
transforming the South Bank for all to enjoy.

It is far from clear how the scheme might now proceed without exposing
Southbank Centre to unacceptable levels of financial risk but it has
committed to a final three month search with all parties, including the
Mayor’s Office, Lambeth Council and the skateboarders. The aspiration is
to find concrete and practical alternative ideas for funding the public
realm works that comprise an unusually high proportion of the Festival
Wing project but will not attract funding from the philanthropic or
sponsorship community.

Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Southbank Centre, said:

“This is a big setback to a scheme which would serve millions if
completed. 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. Boris 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. 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.”

“If we are to have any chance of finding new answers then we need, over
the next three months, the help of everyone with an interest in putting
the final touches to a world class South Bank cultural quarter. If we
all fail to find a solution, the buildings problems do not go away. But
the needs of the new people attracted by our success over recent years
would have to wait to be met until a yet more radical solution to this
hitherto intractable problem emerges.”

They may have been forced to listen to the Mayor of London, but the Long Live Southbank campaign want them to listen to the 35,000+ planning objections and the 100,000+ Preservationists. Show your support here. Here’s a shot of Mark Gonzales who also recently spoke candidly about the historical importance of this legendary spot hippy hopping the bar many moons ago…