The new battle of Waterloo: Rival visions for future of Old Vic Tunnels


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The Independent Culture

The Old Vic Tunnels – the cult performance space – could be turned into a skateboard park after the theatre from which it took its name withdrew funding.

The US footwear and clothing brand Vans is thought to be among the frontrunners in the race to take over the site beneath Waterloo station in London. Their plan is to turn the venue into an underground skate park.

The entrepreneur behind the nightclub Electric Brixton is also thought to be interested in taking over thelease for the venue, while a London market is also interested.

The Tunnels are managed by BRB (Residuary) which manages the remaining functions of the British Railways Board. It was part of British Rail’s portfolio until it was split up by the 1993 Railways Act.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said: “There has been interest from a number of parties and we are at an advanced state with one.”

A spokesman for Vans said: “We are looking at it and are in negotiations.” He stressed it was at an early stage.

The Southbank Centre’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, also showed interest in the site, but ultimately did not submit a bid, a spokeswoman confirmed. The organisation wanted to concentrate on the £120m redevelopment plans for its Festival Wing.

Those plans, coincidentally, have been hamstrung by a high-profile campaign by skateboarders to block the redevelopment of the historic Undercroft, home to skaters for four decades.

The Independent has learnt that a series of bids have been submitted to take over the Tunnels lease after it emerged the Old Vic Theatre, whose artistic director is Kevin Spacey, decided to pull financial support in February.

In addition to their interest, Dominic Madden, the mastermind behind the relaunch of The Fridge nightclub in south London as Electric Brixton, and chief executive of Kingdom Entertainment, is also in the running for the site. He also oversaw the redevelopment of The Coronet in Elephant and Castle. Mr Madden did not return calls yesterday.

 Old Vic Tunnels was discovered by Hamish Jenkinson – who works with Spacey at the Old Vic – while attending a display of work by Banksy in a disused road tunnel near Waterloo. While looking for the toilet, Mr Jenkinson discovered the tunnels by chance and convinced Spacey that it could be turned into a performance venue. They leased the site from 2009.

The venue comprises 30,000sq ft of disused tunnels, and the Old Vic looked to put on events to interest the “Facebook, two-minute-video gen-  eration”.

The Old Vic Tunnels ceased events in March, and news it was to close – revealed a month earlier – was met with dismay from fans who rushed to lodge their unhappiness at the decision on social networking sites

In an official statement, the Old Vic said: “The Tunnels was an adventurous and exciting project which started as a temporary event and performance space in 2009,” before adding: “Since then, The Tunnels earned a reputation as one of the most creative spaces in London.

“We have had three great years to look back on, and are proud of the remarkable range of events and productions we have presented in the space.”

Going underground: A space to treasure

Tunnel 228

The first production in the Old Vic Tunnels in 2009 was a collaboration with Punchdrunk, the immersive theatre company, which had a mixture of art and acting performances.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The Tunnels hosted the premiere performance of Banksy’s movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. Over 4,000 attended the previews of a “cutting edge art house film”.


Bedlam was the third collaboration with Lazarides Gallery, following Hell’s Half Acre and Minotaur, that took London’s first mental institute as its starting point.

A Night Out With The  Millennium Network

The fundraising evening, hosted by former US president Bill Clinton, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow and Will i Am, was on behalf of The Clinton Foundations and The Reuben Foundation.

Nick Clark