Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the South Bank Centre

Letter to Chairman of the Committee from Mr Tom Franklin, Leader of London Borough of Lambeth Centre


  We are writing to you concerning the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) refurbishment project and the critical delay in dealing with this, as well as our concurrent application for the RFH extension building.

  In July 1999 the Heritage Lottery Fund made an in-principle award of £12.5 million towards the RFH refurbishment. In August 2001 the Arts Council made an in-principle award of £20 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund will consider increasing their award to £20 million in the summer. On 3 May 2001 the RFH celebrated it's 50th birthday generating a great national outpouring of affection for a much loved friend. There were 90 articles and features in the national, regional and local press and magazines, including a special 16-page supplement in the Evening Standard, 30 programmes on the radio and 16 television programmes including a two hour special on BBC 2.

  Following the 50th birthday celebrations we launched a major fundraising campaign and to date over 6,000 ticket buyers have pledged £1 million towards the refurbishment programme. With this, and the offer from the two lottery bodies, we have 75 per cent of the funding in place.

  You can imagine therefore, our frustration at the continued, and in our view unreasonable delays in the decision about the planning application submitted in April 2000 initially (with full applications in July 2000—for the Extension Building—and September 2000—for the Foyers Project.)

  We have maintained close and constant contact with your planning officers. The Foyers Project was due to be heard by Committee on 27 November, but the papers were lost between the planning department and the Planning Committee Clerk. It was therefore deferred to 11 December 2001. After three and half hours of listening to domestic applications from garages to double glazing, we were told that after 20 months the Planning Committee needed a site visit.

  This visit, on the 12 January, was organised in detailed consultation with your planning officers. Our understanding was that the purpose of the visit was for members of the Planning Committee to familiarise themselves with the physical changes proposed in both applications and to understand the linkage between the two and the implications of considering them separately.

  The meeting and the visit were requested and supposed to be controlled by the Planning Committee. The Chairman made that clear at the outset. However, despite her reminder to everyone present that the site visit was not a rehearsal for the committee meeting, the presentations and tour were hi-jacked by the Waterloo Community Development Group (WCDG) representatives and other individuals. As the applicant we were prevented from setting out our proposals calmly, clearly and cohesively. Indeed we were intimidated throughout the tour. Individual members of the Planning Committee were aggressively lobbied by WCDG, which meant that not all the members were able to listen to SBC's explanation of the proposals properly. There were also constant interjections of irrelevant and wilfully misleading detail. We are therefore not at all convinced that the members of the Planning Committee are clear about our proposals, the public benefits which will result from their adoption, or the many ways in which we have modified the applications to address objectors' concerns.

  SBC is now in two minds. On the one hand it welcomes the special Planning Committee in March, as an opportunity for the Committee to scrutinise fully the two projects. On the other hand, however, our 20 month experience with the planning department and the shambolic site visit give us little confidence that the Council will succeed in managing the meeting in such a way as to arrive at any reasonable conclusion. We greatly fear that it may turn out to be yet another missed opportunity leading to further delay.

  You should know that we have made representations to the Minister for London and the Mayor about our experience and have expressed our concern about the Council's ability to manage the process for considering complex planning applications of national importance.

  We would like to meet you and Chief Executive Faith Boardman as a matter of urgency to discuss the following proposals.

  First, we would like to summarise in a short document the principal proposals and benefits of the two applications, setting out clearly the linkage between them, the implications of dealing with them separately and the modifications we have made to address concerns. We would also want to identify what we regard as the key planning issues before the Council.

  Second, we would like to hear how the Council proposes to manage the two RFH planning applications, and in particular the special Planning Committee meeting now scheduled for 5 March. We would also like to hear how you propose to manage the process for considering our further planning in relation to the rest of the site, which we will be lodging with the Council early next year.

  Finally, in November Mike McCart suggested to Cllr Kirsty McHugh that we would very much welcome a senior representative from Lambeth Council (either officer or member) to join our Board of Governors at SBC. We believed that this would help foster a better relationship and understanding between the two organisations. This is especially important given that Lambeth residents make over 100,000 visits to RFH foyers each year, that 30,000 ticket buyers come from the borough and that 50 per cent of our arts education programme—the largest in the country—is devoted to Lambeth schools.

24 January 2002

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