Controversial Plans for Southbank Centre Face New Challenges

It's been almost two months since we revealed that the Southbank Centre had agreed to support a fundraising campaign by Long Live Southbank, the campaign aiming to preserve the skatepark in Southbank's undercroft and save it from the £120 million redevelopment of the site as a whole.

This was just one twist in a story that included criticism from the UK's design council CABE and from the neighboring National Theatre, a 50,000 strong petition from skateboarders, an unsuccessful attempt to have the skatepark listed as a village green, a successful attempt to have it classified as an 'asset of community value', and a delayed planning application.

So after all this controversy, what has happened in the last two months?

Well, one thing that hasn't happened has been any form of fundraising. The Southbank Centre claimed that Long Live Southbank had rejected the £17 million fundraising proposal, however it seems that Long Live Southbank in turn rejects that claim. In a letter sent to the Southbank Centre, LLSB spokesperson Henry Edwards-Woods objected that the Southbank Centre had misrepresented them by saying that the idea of crowd funding was proposed by LLSB, when in fact it was not. He states that "It would be inappropriate for LLSB, which represents over 60,000 members, to agree to any crowd funding project... that places the onus of finding funding on Undercroft users." He goes on to say "You have claimed we rejected a proposal that did not even exist."

Interestingly, in their November update, LLSB also claim that the Southbank Centre "admitted to LLSB they failed in their consultation process", however this claim is unverified as they "subsequently took that admission down from their website".

Meanwhile, the Southbank Centre has pushed forward with proposals to develop a new skatepark at a nearby site underneath Hungerford Bridge. Though some say this is evidence that they are determined to remove the existing skatepark, the Southbank Centre has defended this move both as a necessary plan B, but also because the skaters will need to be temporarily moved during construction, regardless of whether their skatepark is preserved.

From the three proposals revealed in September, SNE Architects were chosen as the winners. They have now been teamed up with the site's masterplanners, Rick Mather Architects, to realize the plans. Furthermore, the Southbank Centre has attempted to ease skaters' concerns - many of whom fear that moving the skatepark is the start of a process of evicting them from the area entirely - by entering a legal commitment to provide a permanent and free place for skaters. This 'unilateral undertaking' will effectively ensure that Southbank Centre would be responsible for maintaining the proposed skatepark at the new site, and the skaters could not legally be evicted again.

Not all the news at the Southbank Centre is related to skaters and the undercroft, though. Reacting to the heavy hand used by Feilden Clegg Bradley's scheme, the Twentieth Century Society appointed Sally Rendel Architects to propose an alternative design. The resulting scheme has much in common with the official designs, but removes the more significant glass interventions. “We recognise the buildings can take change but the main thing is losing the big glass box which is way too overwhelming for the site,” said the Twentieth Century Society's senior caseworker Henrietta Billings.

However, the Southbank Centre did not react favorably to the plan which provides only 75% as much internal floor space as the official proposal. “We have consulted extensively with the Twentieth Century Society and they are fully aware of both the arts brief and the funding strategy to realise our future vision for Southbank Centre. As they must be aware, this scheme meets neither.”

Another organization concerned by the design is the British Film Institute. The BFI Southbank building occupies the space underneath Waterloo bridge, and though it is virtually attached to the Southbank Centre it is not a part of the redevelopment. They fear that they will be forced to close during construction, and are also worried that the new scheme will further obscure their building, which already occupies a less than ideal location. In a document issued to Lambeth Council, they state that "there is a lost opportunity to significantly improve the presence of the BFI from the Southbank Centre itself and from Waterloo Bridge which is not addressed in this application."

It seems even in the more quiet period of the past couple of months, this scheme is beset on all sides by obstacles.

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Cite: Rory Stott. "Controversial Plans for Southbank Centre Face New Challenges" 14 Nov 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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