Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Report




38. In 1948 plans were announced by the then Government to hold the Festival of Britain to be a "Tonic to the Nation" following the Second World War. As part of this a new concert hall was to be built as a permanent centre for the musical life of London. The selected site was between the Waterloo and Hungerford bridges. The Royal Festival Hall was opened in 1951 seating 2,900 people and able to accommodate an orchestra of 100 and a choir of 250. In 1954 a 7,700­pipe organ was installed and in March 1967 additional performance spaces in the shape of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room were opened. A year later the Hayward Gallery was opened with an exhibit of the paintings of Henri Matisse.

39. The Greater London Council introduced and funded the radical 'open foyer' policy in 1983 whereby the foyers of the Royal Festival Hall were made accessible to the public all day, seven days a week, with free exhibitions, lunchtime concerts, evening jazz performances, shops, bars and buffets. With the abolition of the GLC in 1985, the Arts Council took over responsibility for the South Bank Centre and an independent South Bank Board was established in 1987 making the South Bank Centre one of the "big five" flagship arts organisations alongside the Royal National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company and English National Opera.

40. In April 1988 the Royal Festival Hall gained the status, and limitations, of a Grade 1 Listed Building. In January 1990 the London Philharmonic Orchestra became the resident Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall following a recommendation by the Tooley Committee, headed by Sir John Tooley, former head of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The orchestra's first season in residency was in 1992. By this time the Voice Box and the Poetry Library were also established parts of the mix.[54]

41. In 1994, the architects Allies and Morrison began work on the refurbishment and restoration of the Royal Festival Hall. An international architectural competition was announced to select an architect to transform the 1960s buildings on the site. The scheme of the winning practice would be the focal point of a second bid for Lottery funding, the fourth attempt to redevelop the site overall.[55] The Richard Rogers Partnership won the competition and proposed a "crystal palace" over the Hayward and Queen Elizabeth Hall to create more usable space within the site footprint and make a comfortable space for arts activities all year round. In 1995 the People's Palace, a 200­cover restaurant, opened in the Royal Festival Hall. Two years later The New London Consort became the sixth of SBC's resident/associate ensembles. The Consort joined the London Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the London Sinfonietta and the Alban Berg Quartet illustrating the range and calibre of classical music programming on the South Bank.

42. In 1998 the SBC's lottery bid, based on the Rogers design, was deemed too costly for the Arts Council's budget[56] and Mr Elliott Bernerd, a Governor of the South Bank Board from 1995, was appointed as Chairman to oversee a new development plan which was unveiled in December 1998.[57] In May 1999 Rick Mather was appointed Masterplanner for the South Bank and started work on the basis for the current plans published in 2000.[58]

Current situation

43. The South Bank Centre currently comprises The Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery. It shares the site with the independently managed National Theatre and the National Film Theatre. On 18 February 2002 Lord Hollick was appointed Chairman of the South Bank Board following the resignation of Mr Bernerd on grounds of ill-health.

44. The South Bank attracts over 6 million visitors per year. During 2000, the BA London Eye (next to Jubilee Gardens) and Tate Modern further established the area as a major destination for Londoners and visitors. The South Bank aims to provide a unique variety of cultural events and facilities attracting a range of leading artists and film makers from throughout the world.[59]

45. Nationally, the South Bank is home to a number of leading orchestras, ensembles, musicians, dancers, actors, artists, composers, poets and writers. From their base on the South Bank, SBC, the Royal National Theatre and the British Film Institute arrange touring exhibitions, film festivals, performances and programmes reaching communities throughout the UK and beyond.[60]

46. The Centre is located in an area that has many social and economic problems. Together, the three organisations based on the South Bank provide the biggest arts and cultural education programme in the UK and hundreds of thousands of people from the surrounding area benefit from its wide range of free foyer and outdoor events. Much of the education programme is targeted at local residents and people of all ages, many attending arts events for the first time.[61]

Proposals: the masterplan


  47. The South Bank Centre argues that improving the South Bank will:

48. SBC has taken the initiative to develop a masterplan for the development of the site stretching along the River Thames between Jubilee Gardens and Waterloo Bridge. This plan also takes into account access from Waterloo Station, Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross and County Hall.

49. Rick Mather & Associates, the project coordinator for the site, was appointed unanimously by a specially created group of 27 people representing local, regional and national interests. In evaluating each of the possible options and developing the draft masterplan, the architects undertook a wide range of work including:

  • an Urban Design Strategy, establishing the best pedestrian, vehicle and servicing routes;
  • a volumetric Study, examining how the buildings needed could best fit on to the site; and
  • a Technical Study into the practicalities, costs and conservation issues raised by adapting or replacing the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.[63]

50. The SBC has also taken into account the findings of a major programme of public consultation involving artists and arts promoters, audiences, local residents and employees and visitors, undertaken during 1999. The consultation programme, which included a series of independently­run Citizens' Workshops for audiences, visitors, local residents and employees, produced the following priorities for the future South Bank:

  • an integrated high quality arts and cultural experience for people of all ages, backgrounds and interests;
  • a whole experience which creates a desire to visit beyond attending a particular performance or venue;
  • a site that makes full use of, and incorporates, the central riverside location; is visually welcoming with greenery, open space and colour; has a mix of activity and quiet spaces creating a flow and balance of movement around the site; enables people to move around with ease; offers good access from surrounding areas; and
  • equal access and movement for people with disabilities.[64]

51. The Royal Festival Hall, a Grade 1 Listed Building, will remain the centrepiece of the South Bank site. The entrances, foyers and terraces will be restored to a grace and prominence commensurate with the building's purpose. Improvements planned within the RFH include restoration of the original entrance on the Waterloo Bridge side; a glass lift linking all levels for the first time; a new café opening at ground floor level onto Festival Square looking towards Lambeth; a broad stairway and terrace along the Hungerford Bridge side linking up with the new footbridge due to open in October 2002; and, on the riverside, replacement of the service road with a sloping garden rising to the river walk. Space for artists and the public within the Hall will also be freed by the proposed RFH extension building alongside Hungerford Bridge. Improvements are also to be made to the stage, technical facilities and to the auditorium.[65]

52. The redevelopment of the South Bank involves a number of key players. In evidence the Government stated that: "The redevelopment of the SBC is one of the biggest capital projects ever tackled in the arts. It is a highly challenging project, but it is a challenge that cannot be shirked. The Government believes the South Bank Centre has the potential to be the best cultural centre in the world, with world­class architecture, providing a varied programme of arts and film for a local national and international audience. It should also be a model for culture­led urban regeneration¼".[66] Lambeth Council said that "The successful redevelopment of the SBC will be a key component in the regeneration of the South Bank and Waterloo." The Council also stressed the importance of looking at the South Bank area in a strategic manner; taking into account the local community, proposals of other stakeholders and its conservation status.[67]

The challenges for the South Bank

53. The South Bank does not appear to present the same sort of ring­fenced heritage issue that we have discussed in relation to the RSC. In the case of the South Bank there are a multiplicity of conservation issues and a broad range of about 50 significant stakeholders. The SBC outlined the main challenges as:

This last factor creates a Catch­22 situation for the SBC. The development of such plans for all the elements of the Mather masterplan is estimated to entail expenditure of between £5 million and £7 million. There is also the question of who could bear the risk of that investment if the development plan, or plans, were to be turned down. Mr Mike McCart, Site Redevelopment Director at the SBC, told us "we want some assurance that we are investing ¼ funds with hopefulness that we can proceed ¼ I think we have learned from the experience of previous schemes ¼ we have a very solid framework in place, and we are moving as planned on a series of individual developments within those sites and within the framework."[69] Ms Maya Even, SBC Vice­Chairman, added that: "funding is not always in place until planning consent is given and planning consent is often given only on the condition of funding". She identified the key as being the ability to manage the process "over a lengthy period."[70]

54. In response to these problems, and to minimise the disruption to audiences and visitors, a phased approach has been adopted to the proposals. Under this strategy, coherent sections of the original masterplan will be proceeded with in isolation. The first phase is the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall.[71]

Costs and Lottery awards

55. The cost of the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall is estimated at £54 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already agreed an in­principle award of £12.5 million for the public areas and, later in the year, will consider raising this figure to match the Arts Council allocation of £20 million. This latter Arts Council award is from the £25 million set aside for the South Bank in July 1999. The remaining funding is being sought from a range of sources.[72] In addition to Lottery funds for the arts and for heritage, the Government identifies the Single Regeneration Budget, Section 106 funding, an "appropriate level" of commercial development on site and private donors as potential sources for the outstanding funds. The SBC have already raised £2.2 million of this (with about half of that sum coming direct from South Bank audiences).[73]

56. The Arts Council believes that refurbishment of the RFH should be the first tangible sign of change on the South Bank, a view held strongly by the SBC and others.[74] Planning consent for this first phase has now been given by Lambeth Council after the SBC gave evidence to us earlier in the year. Lambeth Council's position and performance in considering the application relating to the Royal Festival Hall are set out at length in their written submission to us.[75]


57. The National Lottery has been responsible for a burgeoning in the construction and rehabilitation of public buildings dedicated to the arts, within a relatively short period, which is unparalleled since the industrial revolution. It is now appropriate for the South Bank to share in this renaissance. The Committee supports the case for public money being allocated to redeveloping the South Bank as a cultural centre for London. We are delighted that Lambeth Council has given the necessary consents to enable the South Bank to move forward with restoration of the Royal Festival Hall, enabling the first signs of improvement to begin to emerge.

58. With regard to the wider site, once again the problems are well known and were clearly articulated by the SBC. The South Bank has been without significant investment in buildings or the estate as a whole for nearly 40 years. The South Bank Board argues that the arts buildings are no longer fit for their national or international purpose and the overall site is in a poor and deteriorating state. The SBC wrote that the site "has dark and threatening undercrofts and windswept terraces. Entrances are hidden from the main pedestrian routes. Audiences and visitors have to cross service lanes and delivery yards to gain access to the buildings. Access is confusing and unwelcoming, especially for the elderly, those with young families and those with disabilities¼".[76] This diagnosis was supported throughout our evidence. Detailed and specific plans for remedy remain embryonic. It is essential that at very long last decisive action must be taken to prevent this saga of failed plans and masterplans on the South Bank limping on any further. It is unacceptable that artistic events of the highest quality, equalling or exceeding all international counterparts, should be condemned to take place in such a squalid, seedy and menacing environment.

54   See and Ev 46, 47 Back

55   See Q 54 Back

56   See Q 90 Back

57   Images courtesy of Allies and Morrison and, the inset, David Bonnett Associates Back

58   See and Ev 46, 47. Back

59   Ev 22 Back

60   Ev 22 Back

61   Ev 22, 23 Back

62   Ev 27 Back

63   Ev 25 Back

64   Ev 29 Back

65   Ev 25 Back

66   Ev 201 Back

67   Ev 150, 151 Back

68   Ev 27 Back

69   Q 54 Back

70   Q 56 Back

71   Ev 6 Back

72   Ev 28 Back

73   Ev 202 Back

74   Ev 48 Back

75   Appendix 45, Ev 150ff Back

76   Ev 44 Back

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Prepared 26 March 2002