Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 53 - 59)




  Lady and gentlemen, I would like to thank you very much for coming to see us today. We are conducting, as you know, an inquiry of arts development and we decided that the South Bank was highly relevant to that. I will ask David Wyatt to start the questioning.

Mr Wyatt

  53. Good morning. It seems to me that the South Bank has been under constant development for the last 40 years but actually nothing has happened. Where are we exactly with your current plans?
  (Ms Even) Could I say good morning to all of you and thank you very much for allowing us to appear this morning. I just wanted to introduce ourselves first of all. I am Maya Even, Vice-Chairman of the South Bank, this is Mike McCart who is leading the development programme, and this is Paul Mason who is our Acting Chief Executive. I would just like, before I answer your question and in the process of answering your question, to tell you a little bit in relation to what you have asked about where we are and some of the challenges that we have confronting us. Our plans are ambitious, they are eminently feasible and they will give the UK, at the end of it, a world class arts centre that offers poetry lovers, music lovers, film, art, dance, theatre and literature lovers a single cultural campus. We already offer this of course to the people who make six million visits a year to different parts of the South Bank, and one-third of our ticket buyers of course come from outside London too. We try to keep those prices as low as possible and we present 1200 free events every year. Our concert hall ticket sales are up for the autumn. Our resident orchestras have seen their ticket sales sky rocket over this period too. Our jazz festival, for example, has been the most successful since its inception eight years ago. All this success—and I am getting to your question now—despite the fact that we have, as you rightly have noted, crumbling buildings, extremely poor access for people with disabilities, horrible loos, artists' facilities that are an absolute embarrassment and a site which is confusing for visitors to navigate and positively threatening at night. Everyone wants to change this. All the local people we have consulted in their hundreds and all our 40-plus stakeholders want to change this, and they have embraced the principle of our masterplan, which is to create a welcoming site with beautiful public squares surrounded by plenty of green spaces, and lots of activity at ground level, not underneath buildings, and of course wonderful places for artists to perform and the public to enjoy. The key for the successful redevelopment is evolution. We want to keep as much of the centre open as possible while we improve it, for very good reasons: we want the artists to keep coming; we want the public to keep coming; we want to maintain the source of revenue; we want to give the artists a livelihood; we keep together the skilled teams of people who work at the South Bank; we take all the costs stage by stage, and, as we move forward as well, we deliver to the public, who find there is visible evidence of the progress that we have made on the site. This is all about to commence with the Royal Festival Hall's renovation and I was hoping—very much hoping—that I could come before you today to tell you that in as little as three months' time we were going to put out to tender contracts for the new Festival Square café. Instead, this weekend Lambeth announced yet again that it was delaying its consideration of our planning application. This is a non-controversial, simple planning decision. All we want to do is to restore a great building which everyone loves, the Royal Festival Hall, to its former glory. We have the money in place, we have the architect's plan in place, we have a schedule in place, but Lambeth has sat on this simple, non-controversial application proposal for two years. I cannot tell you how depressing and frustrating it is, not only for me but for all the dozens of people in the South Bank who have been working on this application now, the resident orchestras with whom we have been readying our proposals. It is just unbelievable. Westminster led the Royal Opera House through a long and difficult refurbishment; Southwark gave magnificent leadership and support to Nick Seroto with the Tate Modern; Kensington and Chelsea have supported the Albert Hall and the V&A development; Islington has supported the Sadlers Wells development. All that Lambeth can do for the Royal Festival Hall, a relatively straightforward proposal, is give us delay after delay. We are like horses at the starting gate, ready to go, but the barrier just won't go up. Mr Chairman, Mr Wyatt, I know you all want action on this. So do we. But we need help at this point.

  54. Chairman, maybe we could look at inviting Lambeth to give evidence to us. There have been, I think, 4 different plans over the last 30 years. This is the fifth. Why will this one succeed? Secondly, how much will it cost and where are you getting all the money from?
  (Mr McCart) In terms of the previous schemes, there were very exceptional circumstances why these did not proceed. As you will remember from the evidence that we have given and the Arts Council have given, the Cedric Price scheme was abolished with the GLC in 1986. With the Terry Farrell scheme, the Conservative Government at that time made it absolutely clear that not a penny of public money would be put into the scheme and so it had to be driven and developed entirely through commercial proposals. Those commercial proposals were developed to a very fine state in 1989 and then in 1991 the property market collapsed and undermined entirely the financial basis for that. Then, with the lottery arrival, we were encouraged to proceed with an application for a revised scheme based purely on lottery funding. During that particular process, partly because of the controversy surrounding the lottery at that moment in time, the scheme that we had itself was not flexible enough to deal with the reduced amount of funds; ie we could not break it down over a number of periods. I think the key thing is that when Elliott was appointed chairman, I was involved in this particular project, we sat down and we thought about the lessons why the previous schemes had not succeeded and there were four principal lessons. The first thing is that we should get the arts and urban needs right before we start thinking about architecture. In previous schemes we had gone into purdah. We had creative architectural competitions, selected a scheme, and selected a scheme with very little involvement from outside people. We were not going to do that this time; we were going to look at phased development that would look at a very clear framework within which individual sites could be developed over a period of time. Indeed, that is the way many of our international competitors have developed over the years. The second was what we call "operational continuity". Both the Rogers' scheme and the Farrell scheme would have involved a closure of the Festival Hall and the associated facilities for several years. We thought that was wrong. We think we should be looking at, as Maya said, a phased approach, where we can keep the operational facilities going. Certainly a phased approach would help on that. The third key thing was that in both those previous schemes there had been an overdue reliance on one source of funding. In the case of the Farrell scheme, it was commercial development; in the case of the Rogers' scheme, purely on lottery. Here we are looking at a public/private partnership. We have done a lot of work with the London Development Agency, with the Arts Council, neighbouring landowners, the lottery funds and have had discussions in principle with private donors in moving a mixed source of funding. The last and probably most important thing is that we have established a partnership with stakeholders. The consultation process that we have run for this particular exercise has been very significant. I think the thing we must not underestimate is the importance of the South Bank site. It is part of the post-war heritage of this country, it is a conservation area with listed buildings, listed structures and with strategic corridors and views that have to be protected. Not only that, it has been the people's place since 1951. Six million visits a year. There are 50 different groups which want to participate and are very keen to participate in the future of the South Bank. We have involved these stakeholders in a very extensive consultation process—four months on the brief, six months on the plan—and this I can tell you is unprecedented in the United Kingdom. It is very common in Europe for the public to be involved in consultations on briefs and masterplans, but not in this country. We did a lot of pioneering work and out of that we had a broad consensus, which I have submitted in the evidence as the People's Eight Priorities, which is a very simple description of what the public would like out of this scheme. We have a very clear framework of pedestrian movements, of servicing, of public spaces and of parks for which there is a broad consensus and has been adopted by all the authorities. We are now at the starting gate, as Maya has said, of actually bringing forward these individual sites for development. The frustration is that when we are ready for the Festival Hall we are reliant on third parties. As regards the other schemes, one of the issues arising from our perspective—and it is a cautious one—is that because it is a conservation area Lambeth can only consider detailed planning applications. To bring forward those two applications for the Hungerford car park/Jubilee Gardens and for the Waterloo site is going to cost us £5 million to £7 million in public funds. We think that is an unreasonable risk at this stage until we have secured the right balance, as I have mentioned in the evidence, between securing the arts brief, getting the right mix of funding and securing the planning consent, and we want some assurance that we are investing those funds with hopefulness that we can proceed. I am much more optimistic than you might suggest, Mr Wyatt. I think we have learned from the experience of the previous schemes, I think 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.

  55. I just missed what the cost was that you are looking for—over five or ten years?
  (Mr McCart) To get the schemes to the local authority for planning consent will cost £5 million to £7 million in terms of detailed schemes for each of the three sites.

  56. And then the cost of the three sites?
  (Mr McCart) The Festival Hall is going to cost £54 million of which we have an "in principle" award from the Arts Council of £20 million; we have an "in principle" award of £12.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund; we have the prospect hopefully of a further £7.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to match that of the Arts Council—which means that we have 75 per cent of the funding in place. We have £14 million to raise. We have already raised £2.2 million, and what is very exciting from our point of view is that £1 million of that has been raised from our audiences. We have run a telephone campaign with our audiences following the 50th Anniversary Birthday Project celebrations in May of this year and over 6,000 people have been willing to contribute to the Festival Hall. That is the Festival Hall project, with which, as Maya said, as soon as we get the consent we are confident we can proceed. As far as the elements of the framework of the masterplan are concerned, they include the park, Jubilee Gardens, the Queen's Walk and also key pedestrian movements—we have 7 million commuters moving through our site for which we are responsible—and is going to cost in the order of £11 million. We have been working in partnership with all the businesses in the area and with the London Development Agency in terms of single regeneration budget, and Shell and BA/London Eye have already said that they are willing to make significant contributions to the creation of the new park and the Queen's walk and this will be matched with the single regeneration budget. So this is another stage which could move forward relatively quickly. As regards the other two sites, we are looking at two concert halls, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room, either through replacement or refurbishment, and the restoration of the Hayward Gallery. This is going to cost in the order of £147 million and these will be spread across the two sites and will happen at different times. The sources of funding for that are going to be really through private donations, through commercial development on the site, and finally, as a call of last resort, public funds. As far as donations are concerned, these are going to be very sensitive to issues of whether there is refurbishment or replacement. As you can imagine, new architecture on a high profile site will be far more attractive than refurbishment towards the back end of the site, so that is going to be a sensitivity. Commercial development is going to be much more an issue of planning policy, because we are looking at placing, wanting to place, commercial development in an area that is for cultural development, but we think that trying to get that balance right is going to be the critical factor and obviously, those funds are only going to come forward with planning consent. As far as the lottery and other public funds are concerned, we see this very much as filling the gap, if you like, that is left.
  (Ms Even) There is a Catch 22 to this process which is difficult because funding is not always in place until planning consent is given and planning consent is often given only on the condition of funding, thus we have to raise the funds in order to bring ourselves to detailed planning permission. So it is managing the process over a lengthy period.

  Mr Wyatt: Just call yourself the "New Wembley" and you will get your money first! Lastly, could I just ask—


  57. Before your last question, could I insert a question? You have spoken about the planned Festival Hall. The environment of the Festival Hall, although it can obviously be improved, is not all that bad. There has been quite a good job done (again not in an integrated way) in the approaches to the National Theatre but between those you have an area which a Rio de Janeiro "barrio" would be ashamed of.
  (Ms Even) Absolutely. You could not have put it better.

  58. I cannot understand the architectural motivation for that empty space under the Hayward Gallery that is a haven for crime.
  (Ms Even) You are absolutely right.

  59. I do not know how it ever came about. Although the kids are absolutely well intentioned, the danger of being knocked over by skateboarders who use that place is extraordinary. What about that area?
  (Ms Even) These are the areas where we want to build public squares with access. At the moment all the service routes, all the trucks and everything that get in the way of pedestrians, separate those two, and we want to build new sites that are user friendly. The site is desperately unfriendly, you have absolutely said it: people do not feel happy there in the day, let alone at night, where it becomes very intimidating. Those are the sites that we are looking to redevelop now. Our problem is that we find ourselves stymied by a council. That is it in a nutshell.

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