London aims to plant concert hall in new Culture Mile

London aims to plant concert hall in new Culture Mile


norman lebrecht

July 20, 2017

A strategy was presented today to make the half-billion-pound concert hall that Simon Rattle is demanding the centrepiece of a Culture Mile in the City of London.

That’s all very well, but there has been no public consultation on the new hall, no value-for-money assessment, no demographic study and no recognition that, once Brexit kicks in, the City will be struggling to pay for luxuries.

The hall is, in our view, an otiose digression from more critical cultural issues.

Here’s the press release:

The City of London Corporation, together with the Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra and Museum of London, have announced plans for a major destination for culture and creativity in the Square Mile.

Unveiled today as ‘Culture Mile’, this ambitious and transformational initiative will create a vibrant cultural area in the north-west corner of the City over the next 10 to 15 years. Stretching just under a mile from Farringdon to Moorgate, Culture Mile will have creative exchange, cultural collaboration and learning at its core in an area where 2,000 years of history collide with the world’s best in culture.

Culture Mile’s core partners are all internationally acclaimed organisations in their own right and some partnerships already operate across these institutions. Over the next decade and beyond, the five partners, led by the City of London Corporation, will transform the area, improving their offer to audiences with imaginative collaborations, outdoor programming and events seven days a week. Links between venues will be improved and major enhancements to the streets and wider public realm will enliven the area which, as Culture Mile expands and flourishes, will be regenerated.

Crossrail’s new Elizabeth Line connections at Farringdon and Moorgate, which open in December 2018, will make it much easier to travel to, and from, the City. Around 1.5 million additional visitors a year will be within a 45-minute journey of the area when the Elizabeth Line becomes fully operational in December 2019 and the North-South Thameslink line is upgraded. 

Farringdon will have direct access to three major London airports with a 30-minute journey time from London Heathrow. It will be the only place where London Underground, Thameslink and Crossrail all interlink and will be one of the busiest stations in the UK, making the area more connected than ever to London and beyond.

There are three major building projects associated with Culture Mile which enhance its potential scale and ambition: 

  • the new Museum of London* at West Smithfield, which is already developing its designs
  • the proposed Centre for Music**, for which the preferred site is currently occupied by the Museum of London – has recently announced the shortlist of world class architects competing to develop the concept design for a state-of-the-art building of acoustic and visual excellence.
  • the transformation of Beech Street***, which will become a crucial axis for Culture Mile. The City of London Corporation is assessing how best to transform Beech Street, to make it a more welcoming environment, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, including new measures to improve air quality, introducing retail units and providing better access to the existing cultural destinations either side of it. There will be consultation on the proposals to achieve these aims.



  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Having lived in the Barbican for a number of years I think it is an excellent idea and as the City of London thinks it can pay for it good for them. The whole area is dead at night and at weekends in spite of the new stores on Cheapside and Poultry so this idea may well give the area the fillip it needs and as you say the new Farringdon and Moorgate stations will enable people to travel in and out of the area easily.

  • Ulster Prod says:

    Osborne gave the nod to a new hall in London before he got his arse kicked out the door by May however there was never any actual cash even to do a feasibility and EIA. Why should London get everything, why not have it in Belfast, the DUP who are propping up a lame duck government on its arse, will insist, already they are twatting away about it as the Arlene Foster Philharmonic Hall!

    • DM says:

      “Why should London get everything, why not have it in Belfast”

      Well, as I understand it, the government is no longer putting any of its money towards the project (it cancelled its funding of the feasibility study after Osborne left – the CoLC then stumped up the shortfall), and I believe it will be funded entirely by the City of London Corporation and private finances – someone correct me if I’m wrong?

      As a result, I think it entirely appropriate, therefore, that London gets this particular hall and not Belfast. But, that doesn’t preclude Belfast from getting a new hall itself – if its politicians and city big-wigs actually got together and presented a case to Westminster, who knows what might happen? After all, Theresa May managed to find £1 billion down the back of the sofa to buy the DUP votes in parliament – who knows what more small change might be lurking there for a more publicly beneficial project?!

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Norman, instead of pouring bucketfuls of cold water over all the attempts to offer Londoners the same kind of cultural amenities other great European cities (e.g. Paris) offer, you should be amongst the cheerleaders providing public support. The current government clearly is as philistine as most of its predecessors and is guided as much by personal revenge (e.g. the way Osborne’s feasibility study was consigned to Room 101) as any desire to offer UK citizens (oh yes, London attracts visitors from within and not just without) values that are entirely non-materialistic. Never forget that in deepest wartime the masses sat huddled in their overcoats, often in their lunch-breaks, listening to performances of great music up and down the land. What worked then can work now and in the future. There is no role for naysayers and penny-pinching doom-mongers.

  • Halldor says:

    These continued insinuations that Rattle “demanded” a new hall – any evidence, at all? Or is it just that he’s stated the blindingly obvious – that London’s orchestral concert halls are all substandard and that the money required to build a decent one is loose change compared to the sums that swill through the City of London on a daily basis? If so, we should be grateful that there’s someone in the world of classical music with enough public influence to make the case.

    • Nik says:

      “Swill through”? What does that mean, exactly, and how does the Corporation get to help itself to these funds?

  • John says:

    “Otiose!” Now there’s a sixty-four dollar word!

  • Just Derek says:

    Halldor has made valid point.

    I have read several times that Simon Rattle had mentioned the limitations of London concert halls and enquired about the feasibility of something better. He had suggested that private sources could be sought as well as public funds and acknowledged that there are other priorities.

    Yet, repeatedly, articles report that he ‘demanded’ a new concert hall (whilst stamping his feet, no doubt)

  • Has Been says:

    OTIOSE, a favourite word of the late, great agent Howard Hartog !!

  • John G. Deacon says:

    Please stop drivelling on about Brexit being a bad thing. It is very clearly the best thing that has happened to Britain since WWII. London was a huge musical centre long before the EU-SSR was thought of. It will remain so – there is not a shred of evidence to the contrary.

    • Allen says:

      At the moment, due to Crossrail, maybe. However, I recall old “slamdoor” rolling stock on Southern not that long ago, old unreliable signalling using ancient worn out relays on the underground, Heathrow airport with no more runways than Manchester, and roads that are still badly maintained. Parts of Surrey are even worse. It’s a northern myth that London gets everything it wants.

      In the North – Trams everywhere, the Humber Bridge (known locally as the world’s most expensive sheep crossing), and I clearly recall when the M62 was supposed to solve all its problems.

      So far as arts funding is concerned, take a look at subsidy per attendance. Transport funding per journey might also be worth looking at.

  • Ronald scott says:

    Given the lack of good music and operatic venues countrywide it is egregious to think about spending this amount of cash in a city that already swallows vast quantiities of arts and other budgets (transport to name but one) to the disadvantage of other parts of the country

    Simon Rattle seems to think his ego should be stroked. I disagree.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Ronald you are confusing London and the City of London. The latter can well afford to subsidise and promote the arts and we are grateful for it. On the other hand ACE supports the arts in the other London boroughs and that may well be too much, however do remember that the arts and culture in London is world class and attracts tourists from everywhere which in turn brings money in. The arts raise more money in VAT than football matches surprisingly.

  • SVM says:

    I find it perturbing how organisations like the City of London Corporation are so willing to fund new *buildings* — a process which, no doubt, lines the pockets of choice starchitects and consultants — in the name of music, but not the musicians themselves. They were a major contributor to the fundraising campaign for Milton Court, a new concert hall opened in 2013. Given the perilous state of funding for professional *musicians*, I fear that this new hall would end up becoming an empty shell given over to commercial events and ‘crossover’, since no classical organisation (apart from the LSO, which, presumably, would be given the hall as its permanent base, at times of year when the conference business is quiet) would have the budget to hire it.

    If the City of London Corporation is willing to spend £500M on ‘music’, how about using the money to award every undergraduate and postgraduate at the GSMD a full scholarship and maintenance grant, thus attracting the very best and enabling them to concentrate on their studies. If they did this, perhaps GSMD would eclipse the Royal Schools of Music once and for all…


    The Barbican and RFH both have depressingly poor acoustics for orchestral music. Simon Rattle has a valid case and if and when London can afford it, the new hall should be built.

    Acousticallysuperb halls like the Musikverein in Vienna and Symphony Hall in Birminham greatly enhance the music by adding an immersive warmth and richness to the sound.
    This is what concertgoers in London are currently being denied. It is like hearing a grand piano with the lid closed and the soft pedal dampening the sound

    Belfast, by the way, has two concert halls, including the wonderfully live acoustic of the Ulster Hall where the Ulster Orchestra gives most of it’s concerts. Well worth hearing if you get the opportunity

  • simhedges says:

    John G Deacon wrote “Brexit .. is very clearly the best thing that has happened to Britain since WWII”

    I think you put Brexit down: there’s a chance that it will be even better for Britain than WWII…

  • John Borstlap says:

    Some time ago, when the first wave of London concert hall irritation broke loose, the Future Symphony Institute published a couple of interesting articles on the subject, of which I would like to recommend the ones by Scruton and Krier:

    If such hall will be realized, it is to be hoped that the ugly, idiotic type of designs which look like crashed alien space ships can be avoided.

    • Anon says:

      Don’t hold your breath. Sir Simon, I was told, dreams of a circus hall, not one for classical music performance. One that puts the conductor in the middle, surrounded by audience. Oh the vanity, it has burned too much money already.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Personally I think the Barbican Hall is reasonable. Not great, but reasonable. While Festival Hall is poor. It seems to me that IF London has another concert venue, then it should be one of the major incumbents at Festival Hall which should move. Then each of the top three London orchestras could have their own Hall, coupled with another secondary orchestra.