Southbank Centre withholds Festival Wing in final search for alternative funding model

5th
February
2014

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.”