The saga of the Southbank Centre redevelopment in London heated up recently, after the scheme for the new ‘Festival Wing‘ was formally submitted to Lambeth’s planning department. The scheme, which has been well received by some of the architecture community, including the centre’s original architects Norman Engleback and Dennis Crompton, has run afoul of the skateboarding community, which opposes the plan to infill the undercroft that has been their home for almost 40 years.
After a petition to save the skatepark garnered over 40,000 signatures, the skating community has mobilized once again to object to the planning application en masse. The campaign to save the skatepark has even garnered the attention of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, who wrote to the Southbank Centre’s director of partnership and policy Mike McCart to explain that:
“It’s truly an historic feature of London street culture, and is as well known to skateboarders around the world as Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. Honestly.”
In order to replace the existing skatepark, the Southbank Centre has submitted a separate planning application which will enable them to relocate the skaters to an area beneath the nearby Hungerford Bridge. Mike McCart explains that the decision to infill the undercroft with retail establishments was made not only to present a more welcoming front for other users of the Southbank Centre (whose first point of contact will be at this level), but also to secure funding for the whole project, as commercial loans are expected from the businesses that will eventually occupy the space. He emphasizes that:
“We’ve always made it clear that while their activity is safe on the south bank, it’s not necessarily in this location.”
The severity of the backlash from the skating community, however, demonstrates that attempts to compromise may be in vain. For skaters – locally, nationally and internationally – there may be simply no way to replace the Southbank skatepark.