Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Mr Wyatt

  60. When we talked to the RSC last week, whilst they wanted to create a sort of Shakespearean village, it seemed to us, which has some accommodation, there was no locus whatsoever in what they were doing with the people in Stratford. There was not a secondary school which was going to be a Shakespeare art school or specialism. There has always been the Coin Street group, and you seem to have located more friendship and warmth in them, if I have understood you, but what exactly will they get? What will the local schools get and what will the local people get? This, after all, is on their back door, what are you going to give that makes it more socially inclusive?
  (Mr Mason) Good morning, if I may answer that question. It is not only what we will give, it is what we are giving at the moment. It comes in two parts: it is what we take in and what we give out. If I can say first what we take in. If you were to come down to the Festival Hall on a week in early July each year, you would see something called the National Festival of Music for Youth. You cannot move for bus loads of kids from all over the country. They come from the Isle of Wight, they come from Scotland, they come from Kendal in Cumbria, and they come to play in the hall in this wonderful festival. They come from closer to home too: they come from Lambeth, they come from Southwark, they come from the inner London boroughs, and they come from outer London boroughs too. That is one thing where we bring in school children. We also bring people in at other times of the year. We have special programmes for Lambeth school children. We do this on our own proposals through our education department and we do it in combination with our resident ensembles, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta. They are all active in the local borough, in the local schools and with the local communities, encouraging them to come into the Festival Hall and, if the halls are open during the daytime, the other two halls too and the Hayward Gallery. We had a very nice response the other day from a child, who said to her mother apparently, having been to the Festival Hall, that she had always thought and had always understood from her mother that it was a place where rich people went and she had found that that was not true, that there were people who were not rich there, there were all sorts of people there. Then, if I talk about what we do outside, reaching out, we run on our own account two major programmes. One is the National Touring Exhibition service and the other is the Arts Council Collection. They are both obviously in the visual arts. The National Touring Exhibition Service takes small exhibitions round the country and it takes them to municipal art galleries and other suitable venues. It takes them into the local boroughs and makes visual arts available to not only school children but others as well, and it does it country-wide, so you are likely to see one of our vans touring up in Banff in Aberdeenshire as well as in Brixton. So we are doing a lot for the local community and the local schools. Added to that, our programmes in the three concert halls are very eclectic. If you come to the Festival Hall on a Monday, you might see Baaba Maal; if you come on a Tuesday, you might see the London Philharmonic Orchestra; on a Wednesday you might see a very well-known rock star; you might see on Thursday Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. So we have a huge variety of programmes, and with those programmes comes very wide and diverse audiences and they range in all ages. We want to do more, more, of what we are doing already.
  (Ms Even) If I may just add to that as well, apart from the 28 schools with which we have associations in the local borough where we offer obviously our facilities and expertise, we have a Lambeth residents card which offers discounts and free deals for events that are on in the South Bank. We also have resident-only events. For example, we had a Millennium-eve matinee for Peter Pan which was an enormous success with local residents and their children. We worked with a local primary school last year to make a film about Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Last Supper where the children actually came in and met and talked to Harry Birtwistle, who is on our board as well, and then went out and made a film about himself and the cast and the way that the opera was being staged. We have taken young people from Lambeth to the Cité de la Musique in Paris and had an exchange programme with them and then taken their people back into Lambeth, into our schools, and into the Gamelan Room actually in the centre, and had an exchange, a cultural and educational week with those children. So we are very involved and trying very hard to make sure that the residents see us as an organic part of their community, to enliven their community as well as give something back to us, because this is what teaches us—I mean, this is what makes us alive, for goodness sake!—otherwise, it would be a centre without a purpose.


  61. I had occasion to visit South Bank a number of times in the pre-Christmas period and I would go into the Festival Hall to look at the record shop, and what enthused me every time I went in was that the place was absolutely overrun with children, excited children.
  (Ms Even) Yes.

  Michael Fabricant: I wonder if I may focus first of all on the exterior of the building, as I am no great lover of 1950s block-concrete culture or indeed—

  Chairman: It is a lovely building.

  Michael Fabricant: I agree with the interior, I think the interior is marvellous.

  Chairman: No, the exterior as well.

  Michael Fabricant: I think it is as ugly as hell, just like Battersea Power Station—though we will not go into that again.

  Chairman: You obviously never go there. Get on with it!

  Michael Fabricant: But I do go there in the sense that I am a very keen walker. Really I wanted to focus on the exterior with regard to the whole pedestrianisation of the South Bank area, because it really is a very pleasurable thing to be able to walk from Westminster, as one can do, all the way to Tower Bridge or, as I often do, to the excellent Globe Theatre and its even more excellent Globe Theatre restaurant (which I recommend to everyone). The Rogers' plan, which I thought was a very imaginative, talked about cascades of plants and took away that ugly, dour sort of exterior that people in Manchester are used to!

  Chairman: It does not stop you wanting to come to Manchester the whole time.

Michael Fabricant

  62. Enough of this banter. Could you perhaps paint more of a picture of how you see the exterior of this development as it faces out towards the Thames?
  (Ms Even) Yes. I could not agree more with you in some respects—although I must say that I love fifties' building—and it is the sixties' buildings perhaps that you are referring to as well as the sort of concrete jungles.

  63. We all have our crosses to bear.
  (Ms Even) I leave you to yours. Personally, many years ago when I first visited South Bank—I am a Canadian, so I came here as a visitor—I was disillusioned with the site. I took away an impression of a concrete jungle on stilts, with very dilapidated buildings in the sixties' cases, very unfriendly and intimidating, and very uncaring, as you say, of the human river that passes through it at all times of the day and night. The beauty of the masterplan and what we are trying to do with it, is that, for all its elegance and vision, it is extremely human in its detail and its essence. What it gives us is really what we want from everyday life, because what it is going to do is give you greener spaces to walk in. We are going to enlarge the park and try to make as much green area as possible. We are going to have lovely squares, which have been mentioned, which you can just walk through, sit down and have a coffee—because we are going to have a Festival Square café—weather permitting, of course. We are going to have buildings whose entrances are not up on stilts but down at ground level and we are going to have frontages—and this is all part of the masterplan—which are active, which are filled with either commercial development—which means commercial artistic development, bookshops, things that are obviously related to what a great cultural centre should give people, cultural buildings you will be able to walk in and out of. The new education centre will have a glass front, you will be able to look right into it to see the masterclass or to see people painting or to see children learning to dance, so that it will all be visible, and the transparency will hopefully be visible throughout the site and outside the site too. What we want to do is give people—it is the "rubbing shoulders with the art form" idea—a chance to be able to rub shoulders with a myriad of art forms both formal and informal all across the site, so you could take in a foyer exhibition, you could take in, as we said, a masterclass in the education centre, and outside you could take in a wonderful free concert that is transmitted in the park and on a nice day you could sit down in the park and listen to that concert, but it will be a friendly site. You mentioned the Globe. I leave you to the restaurant, but that whole notion of a string of pearls, which is really important for the South Bank, is one I think we feel very proud to be a part of, that starts with Tate Britain, that continues along to the Houses of Parliament, which of course is one of our world heritage sites, that crosses over to the South Bank, that encompasses Somerset House, that moves to Tate Modern and goes all the way to the Globe. That is a wonderful cultural ring which we are very proud to be a part of, but we want to make ourselves better. I am ashamed of it as it exists now. I think it is good for audiences and artists and it is very good for the community, because there is, as I said, no point to it if it is not part of the community and the communities cannot enjoy it.

  64. Can I just press you a little further on questioning the actual elevations? You spoke about glass frontages at ground floor level, but apart from the Luddites on this Committee there are others who feel that the upper elevations really are very, very stark. How are they going to be softened? To what degree are you going to be allowed to demolish some of these monstrosities? Are English Heritage saying that they should be listed like Battersea Power Station?
  (Ms Even) We have already demolished the walkways around that hemmed in the Festival Hall. That has been done a couple of years ago. But there is more that we are going to do through that area as far as bringing everything down to level. There are some constraints on site but some of it depends on how we refurbish the buildings.

  65. What are the constraints?
  (Mr McCart) The constraints really are, first of all, being in a conservation area. Secondly, those buildings, although two attempts have been made to list them, are adjacent to Waterloo Bridge, which is a listed structure, and Festival Hall. Therefore, in the masterplan framework we have made a decision that we wish to refurbish the Hayward Gallery in its existing footprint and certainly, if I were to show you photographs of the Hayward Gallery when it was built brand new in 1967, it was a wonderful structure. It has really come into fashion in the last four to five years and we think there are huge benefits in retaining it and bringing the foyers down to the ground. It needs a whole series of basic facilities down at ground floor. With regard to the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, we are leaving open to architectural competition on that part of the site whether we retain the auditorium. Our masterplan has made a very clear set of frameworks and priorities really: firstly, the most important thing to do, if we can retain it, is the auditorium; secondly, would be the foyers; and, thirdly, would be the terraces. In any event, whichever architect is commissioned on that site will take as a given the terracing effect off from Waterloo Bridge down to the new square in front of Festival Hall. That will be the basic way in which we will retain those sorts of broad principles of that architecture. Maybe I can also answer this point about why were pedestrians up at that higher level. In the sixties it was very fashionable that people would be at a higher level and cars would be at ground floor level. Unfortunately, when Elizabeth House was built on the other side of York Road, it then brought pedestrians back down to ground level and this undermined the entire pedestrian route structure. One of the key things we have been doing in our proposals is we have pioneered the use of what I will call disabled access. The Festival Hall, the South Bank site, finds itself dissected by these two high level bridges and a high platform at Waterloo Station. This is a huge barrier to people in wheelchairs, people with other disabilities, mums with pushchairs and elderly people. Certainly we know that lots of people would come and spend the day there if it was easier to get to, so one of the things we have been working on is how we improve disabled access. We are the first people to pioneer in this country a set of development principles for access that deal with the site rather than just the buildings. As you know, the Disability Discrimination Act legislation in 2004 will create a framework for access within buildings. We are actually very keen to look at access to the buildings and moving around the site.

  66. Indeed people forget that it is windier at higher levels.
  (Mr McCart) Exactly.

  67. Finally, could I just ask, assuming Lambeth Borough Council get their act together finally, what sort of timescale do you see for this project?
  (Mr McCart) I think within about nine months of a consent the public will start to see some changes around Festival Hall; for example, the café that Maya mentioned in terms of Festival Square. That square itself actually is one of the few places you can orientate yourself: you can see the Wheel, the House of Parliament, Westminster, St Paul's and the bridge, so it is a very important square. Secondly, we plan to introduce a new wide staircase off Hungerford Terrace. At the moment 4 million people are having to navigate a rather dangerous and rather narrow spiral staircase. That number, when the bridge opens next year, is going to be 7 million and so we want to deal with that. As regards to the foyer, I think had we got the consent in 2002, or what I will call 2001, we would probably have refurbished the Festival Hall in a series of mini projects while keeping the facility open, but we are now also involved in renewing the acoustic and refurbishments to the auditorium and so, when we are clear about that later this year, we will then decide whether to proceed with Festival Hall improvements over four or five years, starting next year, or whether to take it in a shorter period. As regards the public realm, the park and the river walk, then I think with the funding in place we could be looking at designs being presented for public consultation towards the end of this year, consent hopefully next year, and then moving towards an introduction of the park starting in 2003-04. As regards the other sites, these are really subject to much more detailed work but I think it is unlikely that the whole site will be complete until 2008-09. The whole point is that there will be constant change, constant movement keeping the facilities open, but also lovely interest in seeing how we are regenerating the site.


  68. You mentioned the staircases. One of the things I have noted, not only with the spiral staircase but with the other staircases, is that when it rains they are ankle-deep in water.
  (Ms Even) I know. They are in very bad shape. We want to restore the original staircase. The crazy thing about the site and the changes that were made in the sixties is that people are now lost when they are trying to get into the building. Restoring the original staircase brings back the original sense of the building, the beauty of the architect's plans. It was very simple. In fact our architect now was taught by Dr Leslie Martin at Cambridge, so he has all the sense of what the original architects wanted to do with the site, to return it to its original sense of beauty.

Mr Bryant

  69. I think it is worth saying that over the last 10 years or may be 15 years the whole of the South Bank has improved immeasurably from what used to be a really desultory walk. Partly because of the Tate further on down, the fact that you can now walk the whole length of the riverside has turned London back into one of the most beautiful riversides in the world. It is a bit depressing if you start from here though, because you have to walk through ankle-deep McDonald's wrappers outside County Hall. I hope somebody is going to look at that. I worry about this business of your relationship with Lambeth and clearly you do—and we have only got you today, so we have not got Lambeth to put the other side—but I wonder whether part of that is to do with the fact that there are very few windows from any of the buildings that are on your side and further on down to the National Theatre that look out towards Lambeth.
  (Mr McCart) Exactly.

  70. Everything looks out on to the river. It feels a bit as if you have your back to Lambeth.
  (Mr McCart) Exactly. That is the whole purpose of the café and it is the whole purpose of the masterplan, which is bringing the Hayward Gallery down to ground level and those facades onto Belvedere Road. It is absolutely critical.

  71. There was a phase when you went through being called SBC1and SBC2 and SBC3 and things like that. Has that gone now?
  (Mr McCart) Yes.
  (Ms Even) That pre-dated me.

  72. That was very perplexing. I did not understand it at all. I notice you are doing a review of performance hall provisions—and of course that is what you are talking about, the various different halls. I think I have had three of my most pleasurable evenings in my life on the site. One was for Mercedes Sosa, the Argentinian singer, in the Festival Hall—which was, as you say, a thoroughly exuberant and rumbustious evening—and one was in the Purcell Room. I have only ever seen Earlier English music in the Purcell Room. Is that something that will remain?
  (Mr Mason) The Purcell Room is a very small hall. It only seats 370 people and even less if we are putting on some dance events. It is very inefficient to operate and is not universally loved by the people who put events on there. They would like a larger hall. The reason they would like a larger hall is that, first of all, they do not lose money on the hall, and, secondly, they are able, whatever size the ensemble, to project more, they can make more of their event than if it is as small as it is. We would like to replace or refurbish the Purcell Room so that it has more seats and more flexibility in the way those seats can be configured. It might even be that for some events there will be no seats at all, just a flat floor. Taking your Mercedes Sosa, that obviously would not be the sort of thing you would put in the Purcell Room, but for a similar sort of event, with a lower attraction for audiences, you would have people able to move around, stand up, dance or whatever. We would have about three or four configurations which we would be able to use in a flexible way, which would available to music, to dance, to spoken word, to some smaller opera. That is what we would like to do with the Purcell Room.

  73. Can I just push you on this bit about early English music. It seems to me that it is easy to get audiences in for 59 performances of Tchaikovsky but there is another audience however.
  (Ms Even) You are absolutely right. Our Director of Performing Arts has been incredibly clever about it. We have mentioned audience figures going up for the autumn season. She has looked at what our audiences wanted—because we have conducted a certain amount of research to see what it is that they want, that is going to bring them in in great numbers, because, we have to be frank about it, audiences are a difficult thing to chase these days. I know if you perform excellent things you will bring them in, but you have to see what they want too. She has, by performing across a range of music, drawn in those audiences very successfully. Our concert hall attendance is up across the board and I think it is because of very successful programming. It does cater for all tastes, for early music as well as for all other forms of non-classical music as well.
  (Mr Mason) May I enlarge on that point? I am sitting on the committee which is looking at the concert hall provision and we are taking evidence from several groups which are involved with early music and early English music in particular. They have all said that they will perform in the Purcell Room but they do not like it because it does not afford them enough opportunity and flexibility. If we could make the Queen Elizabeth Hall a more attractive space to work in, and that means not only financially but also in terms of how they can perform and the number of seats that we can put in there, they would be more willing to consider that hall. The reason for that is that the volume and the space of that hall—the acoustics primarily—are so good that they like it. So if we can attract them there, that is their preference.

  74. Is there ever going to be a film that you can watch in the IMAX cinema?
  (Mr Mason) I think the IMAX is something which is the responsibility of another organisation, the British Film Institute.

  75. But they are tenants of yours, are they not?
  (Mr Mason) Not in the IMAX, no. The British Film Institute underneath Waterloo Bridge is a leaseholder on a peppercorn rent for a long lease. They are independent of us in terms of management.


  76. The approach to that is gruesome.
  (Mr Mason) It is indeed.
  (Ms Even) It is now and that is going to change.

Ms Shipley

  77. Last week I was very sceptical of the RSC's plans, however I am not sceptical of yours, in the need for them. With the RSC I was unconvinced after their presentation that there was a need for them. Desirable, yes, but actual need, I couldn't see it. With yours I think there is a definite need for this and I welcome your access principles. Unlike my colleague I actually would like to see the high quality fifties' and sixties' buildings kept and I do think they are of high quality. Though they may be of a particular aesthetic type which some do not appreciate, I am not one of those. I like their modernism. I want to see the pedestrianisation extended and the vehicles got out. Having said all that, the great strength for me of the South Bank area is its inclusivity. I am a regular user. I do not so much use the concert halls and those sorts of facilities but the space. I am concerned about the spaces between your major performance spaces, as I think you are. The commercial development then sort of rings warning bells in my head and so I would really like you to spend some time now outlining for me how the free aspects (as I would like to sum them up) would be kept, because a great pleasure of the South Bank is to wander around and not be stopped from going in. The Hayward is perhaps the bad example, you cannot get into the Hayward without paying money, but with just about all of the other things, the National Theatre, the Festival Hall, you can get an enormous amount of pleasure and artistic "rubbing shoulders" sort of thing and experiences without actually paying any money. It might be more desirable for you to spend money there, but you do not have to. I do not know quite how to put it, but you get my point. Could you tell me the free aspects? One small point: the skateboarders. I am going to stand up for skateboarders. No, I do not like getting mowed down by them, like anybody else, especially when I am taking a toddler down there. However, there is not much for young men, in particular, who want to do that sort of stuff. Is there no way that skateboarding could be incorporated in a way that stops them going into other people but gives them that excitement and brings them into that area?
  (Mr Mason) Can we perhaps answer your question in two parts? I will deal with the "for free" aspect and Mike McCart will deal with the buildings and skateboarders aspect. I can assure you that it is our absolute intention to continue the "for free" activities. We have been extremely pleased with them ever since the free foyers came into existence in 1983 and we are very glad that you and lots of others enjoy them and have continued to enjoy them. We will continue the free events in the Festival Hall. We will not only continue them but we would like to put them back to what they used to be two or three years ago, which is to have not only free music at lunchtime and in the evenings but free visual arts and other types of activities on the ballroom floor and other public spaces. We would like to draw people into the Festival Hall and this is one means of doing that. At the moment this free activity takes place at the main level, which is level 2, where the catering and in-house shops are, but we would like to draw people up into the building at the front over the riverside, because there are not only wonderful spaces to be explored in the building itself but there are marvellous views over the river, looking up river and down river. So we would like to encourage everybody into the Festival Hall and we will use free events as a means of marketing that. There is, however, something else we could do on this unloved part of the site that is the Hayward Gallery. At the moment the Hayward is up at a higher level, as you will know from its entrance, but most critically it is closed for three months a year. The reason for its closure is that between each exhibition you have to take out the last exhibition before you can get the next one in. Quite apart from anything else, it is very efficient, but it also means that the Hayward is not available for a certain number of months a year and that is not good for its attractiveness. Visual arts colleagues of ours run a service on behalf of the Arts Council called the Arts Council Collection and it is part of our proposals that not only would be remodel the Hayward so that it was open all year round, but that we would open a new gallery which would be open all the year. It would be a continuing exhibition of the Arts Council's Collection, so there would be something free in the visual arts as well as in the performing arts and literature for visitors to the South Bank. As far as the buildings are concerned, may I hand over to my colleague to answer that particular point.
  (Mr McCart) Before that, if I may, obviously Jubilee Gardens has a great tradition of outdoor events for London families. Under the GLC, there was the Thames Day Festival, which was London's largest firework display. We are working in partnership with the landowners to create an endowment which will enable us to sustain a year-round programme of outdoor events and activities. Also, for the spaces between the buildings we certainly would be looking at the principle of working with the commercial partners that we have within the site to extend the foyer areas to the spaces between the buildings, certainly during the summer with outdoor events and artists and musicians performing. We also see public art as a key part: poetry, sculpture and so on, so that is another way in which people can rub shoulders with the arts in a free way. As regards skateboarders, I understand it is the Mecca of skateboarding in the world, so that, if you are in San Paulo or anywhere else, it is the place with which people are familiar. We are very keen to find some means by which we can continue that use. I was always under the impression that this was a somewhat anarchic activity, where they would want to take uses that were not designed for skateboarding and utilise them, but someone has mentioned to me that there are two young Americans from Los Angeles who have been very successful in creating a skateboard park, under the Westway and elsewhere, where not only do they pay, not only is there no graffiti, but they also wear hard hats and they enjoy themselves. So I think there are some ingenious ways in which we can do that, and it is certainly our intention to encompass them within our proposals.
  (Ms Even) Can I also reassure you on one other point that you made about commercialism and commercial development of the site? You are absolutely right, in many ways we do not want to have ugly commercial development that is irrelevant to the site, but, in another way, in centres like this they have to cater for families that do act in a different way from traditional models. When you go out with your family for the day, you want to go to a centre where you do not just have one activity and then have to drag them off for lunch or have to drag them off for tea or whatever. You want to be able to stay at the centre. I want to be able to take my children to a centre, have a place where you can eat, inexpensively, good food; go to a good bookshop that has a great children's section where the children can sit down and read books and maybe have one of the authors there reading to them as part of our literature programme; take in the Wheel, which is a great family attraction now; and be able to play around in the playground which South Bank has just opened in Jubilee Gardens. All these things are forms of commercialism—obviously the playground is free but there are other things that are not—that add to the experience rather than take away from it. What you really want to do is to create an experience that does cater for the practicalities of everyday life. If there is no place to eat and no place to find a good book and no place to do something which is not commercial but comfortable, then it is jolly difficult to take families around like that.

  78. What I was getting at really is much more the commercial attitude and how you will manage to manage the commercial attitude. Because if I am providing a good quality bookshop, I do not probably want to provide an area where children are going to read those books, play with them—
  (Ms Even) We want it.

  79. Good. That is lovely. Things like the informality of the South Bank, the buskers, which perhaps are a bit messy frankly outside your nice, smart sort of shop that is selling some nice smart art items. They do not want the buskers there, but if you sweep them away and clean things up too much then you are losing something, you are losing the quality. I want to know really how you are going to maintain with commercial partners something which is so subjective. How are you going to manage that?
  (Ms Even) Because they want to be part of us. We are a wonderful site. They all want to be there. It is a site which has seen our revenue go up because of the extra activity on the site, as a result of the Wheel, as a result of the extra things that we are doing. These are the things that are going to attract lots of people there and the commercial people want to be there, so we are going to be able to pick and choose. We want to be selective.
  (Mr McCart) Certainly if you look at the commercial operations which exist in the Festival Hall, we know for a fact that the Palace Restaurant is one of the most successful restaurants on the river; we know that Books Etc and our Eat cafés are outperforming high street sites, Oxford Street, for example. That works very well. The concern that we have, and what we want the development to achieve, is that we are not able to provide the range of catering. For example, a lot of consultation work is done with children. It is magnificent to see seven and eight year olds giving you a 45 minute presentation on overheads on what they think is wrong and what they want from the South Bank. The key thing there is that we are not able to provide that range of catering because the Festival Hall is a Grade 1 listed building and it has to be primarily cultural in its focus but the site gives us the opportunity of creating a much greater diversity of range of shops and cafés, because people come for different reasons, they come with different people on different occasions.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 March 2002