South Bank fiddles while Boris fumes

South Bank fiddles while Boris fumes


norman lebrecht

May 29, 2014

London’s South Bank Centre has come up with a new £24 million scheme to ‘maintain’ the grotty parts of the site, after Mayor Boris Johnson shot down its £120 million Festival Wing.

Two-thirds of the new money is coming from the Arts Council – without public debate, as usual. This is a patchwork solution, more money down the drain and no clear strategy while a failing management pushes paper rounds its desks.

The South Bank needs new leadership. Also a new constitution. Press release follows.



Arts Council England is to fund the repair and maintenance of Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery with a £16.7m grant. Starting in late 2015, the building conservation project will address a £24m backlog of repairs. The Arts Council grant will meet 70% of the budget, with the remainder to be raised from trusts, philanthropists and audiences.

Southbank Centre is still working to resolve the funding of a wider scheme for the Festival Wing, which will deliver new space for art and culture, alongside major public realm and service improvements. It expects to make recommendations on this scheme in late 2014.

Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Southbank Centre, said: “We are very grateful to Arts Council England for so generously supporting the urgent repair and maintenance of these iconic 60s buildings. This is an important step for Southbank Centre following the delay to our Festival Wing scheme in February.

“We still aim to create new space for our artistic and cultural programmes, once we have found a way through the substantial remaining funding challenge. This will enable us to meet the huge demand for our work following the refurbishment of Royal Festival Hall.”

Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England said: “The Arts Council is pleased to be able to safeguard the future of this vital part of London’s artistic and tourist infrastructure through this capital grant. This grant will enable the Southbank to carry out essential work to enhance its existing space, giving them the right buildings to deliver their fantastic artistic and cultural programme and to bring multiple benefits to the millions of visitors the centre attracts each year.”

Simon Hickman, Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas at English Heritage, said: “These uncompromising brutalist buildings reflect radical changes in British society and culture during the era of their design and creation. Their conservation could not be further delayed and we are delighted that Southbank Centre and Arts Council England are prepared to invest in them. This will enable the public to appreciate the buildings and their significance. English Heritage looks forward to working with Southbank Centre and sharing our expertise in the detailed development of the proposal.”

The new building conservation project will improve essential services, environmental performance, infrastructure such as workshops and backstage areas, and disabled access for audiences and artists. It will restore the buildings’ interiors to their original appearance and repair exterior terraces to maintain a key part of the site’s outdoor landscape. It will also replicate the iconic Hayward Gallery Pyramid Roof to allow controlled natural light into the galleries as originally conceived.

The project will include an extensive, permanent programme of learning and participation. This will allow people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with the history of these important buildings, helping to change attitudes to 20th century architecture.

Southbank Centre continues to work on its Festival Wing plans with neighbours including the BFI and National Theatre, the GLA and Lambeth Council. It will be making every effort with skateboard groups to resolve their future in the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft, which is the subject of ongoing legal challenge.



  • Anne says:

    How much does a bulldozer cost?

  • Will Duffay says:

    The original plan was flawed – the glass tower was unnecessary – but the effect of the skateboarders’ campaign has been disproportionate and absurd. And finished off by Boris’s intervention.

    Both the QEH and the Purcell Room are lovely halls inside and function well (though it does take a long time to get in and out of the QEH), even if they are truly ugly from the outside. So they are worth keeping. I don’t much care about the Hayward, which is both ugly and completely up itself artistically.

    But I’m not sure what form of public debate should take place about this grant, which is presumably necessary to enable the buildings to continue functioning. It does seem a lot as a stop-gap, however.

  • Yes, there are times when I fantasize that Godzilla would just stomp the whole “complex” into oblivion, and then we could have some cool, hot Scandinavian team rebuild it from the ground up.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Jude Kelly has presided over the most comprehensive dumbing down in the history of South Bank operations. Were she a man, her head would already be on the chopping-block. The list of her self-seeking inanities is prodigious: she proceeded to harangue the audience for ten whole minutes before the start of the final concert in the 2012-2013 Philharmonia season at the end of June 2013, insisting that everybody had to sign her petition to Lambeth Council. Why must we put up with her one moment longer?

  • Dennis Marks says:

    Nothing has changed in twenty years. Chief Executives of the South Bank come and go and it remains a poorly managed and schizophrenic site, still undecided between its cultural and commercial objectives. It has the worst front of house management in London – shambolic and unattractive bars and cafes and poorly trained staff. Just compare the Barbican (let alone the Coli – but I am biassed) – in a badly designed building first Tusa and now Kenyon have managed to create an enjoyable environment and cleverly planned eclectic programme. Less rhetoric, less political interference and more care for the audience might not transform the SBC but at least, like Simon Rattle, we wouldn’t lose the will to live every time we go there.