The Southbank Centre has been granted an extension by Lambeth Council, the body which will decide whether to grant planning permission for the £120m Festival Wing project, in order for the arts centre ‘to review whether our scheme is achieving the very best balance of opportunities for current and future generations’.
The planning application, submitted in May 2013 and due for consideration this autumn, has been pushed back ‘a few months’ meaning that a decision may not be made until 2014.
The move follows a sustained campaign against the plans ‒ which would develop the undercroft of the Queen Elizabeth Hall for retail and restaurant space ‒ organised by supporters of the skateboarders, BMX riders, street writers and others who currently use that space and claim it as a global centre for such activities.
Though the projected rents from the development are a key part of underwriting the cost of the ambitious plans, and despite consultation with the undercroft’s current users (including offering the use of a new, purpose-built site underneath Hungerford Bridge on the other side of the Festival Hall), the Southbank appears to be modifying its approach.
‘Over the next few weeks we will work with our communities to find the best way of balancing everyone’s needs in demanding financial times so we can achieve this ambitious project,’ said a statement.
‘At Southbank Centre we believe passionately in finding ways for as many different people as possible to become involved in arts and culture and to feel welcome on our site. The Festival Wing project has huge potential to reach out and change the lives of thousands of local children and young people who currently have very few opportunities and to give new space to the widest range of community arts.
‘But we also want our skateboarders, street writers and BMXers to continue to think of this as their home.’
Lambeth Council has also received an official objection to the Festival Wing from the National Theatre’s director, Sir Nicholas Hytner. The National Theatre is based on the other side of Waterloo Bridge from the Southbank and Hytner writes that, apart from its impacts on views and setting, ‘The perception of an arts quarter will further be damaged by the wedge-like effect of the Liner building, marking a clear demarcation between two great arts institutions much more emphatically than Waterloo Bridge currently does’.