South Bank buildings to be razed and rebuilt

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The Independent Online
MUCH OF the forbidding concrete jungle that is the South Bank arts complex in London will be torn down and replaced with new galleries, concert halls and cinemas.

The Royal Festival Hall, scene of the Government's ecstatic celebrations after the general election, remains and will be restored and expanded. But the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the concrete walkways connecting them will be demolished and rebuilt further west.

The scheme, somewhat less grandiose than the architect Richard Rogers' original plan for a wavy glass roof covering the entire centre, was announced yesterday by Elliott Bernerd, the chairman of the complex. A new film complex will be built on the site, which will house the National Film Centre, the Museum of the Moving Image, currently under Waterloo Bridge, and the headquarters of the British Film Institute.

A building will be positioned on the Hungerford car park site overlooking Jubilee Gardens and the arches under Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges will be opened up to improve access. Mr Bernerd said: "We want to see the Royal Festival Hall not only restored but supported by properly equipped new arts buildings and well-designed, user- friendly open spaces. Our objective is to keep our arts buildings open during the millennium celebrations and then to implement our strategy, in a phased way, beginning construction in 2001."

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, said the new proposals were "very dynamic" and Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the chairman of English Heritage, said the regeneration would transform the "most important site in the heart of London into a world- class arts complex".

Trevor Nunn, director of the National Theatre, said the plans would improve access from Waterloo rail station and make the South Bank more accessible to tourists and the local community.

Although everyone seemed happy with the plans yesterday, the regeneration scheme has been the cause of much bitterness since 1986, when the South Bank Board inherited the site from the Greater London Council.

When the pounds 100m plans of Lord Rogers of Riverside were ditched earlier this year because of a lack of Lottery money, Sir Brian Corby resigned as chairman of the centre's board.

Sir Brian was replaced by Mr Bernerd, a property developer, who said at the time that he was "emotionally and aesthetically committed" to Lord Rogers' design.

But his commitment was not enough to save the wavy glass roof.

A spokesman for the South Bank Centre said yesterday: "We were looking for something that we could phase in over a period of time, which would be more practical and help with costs, but the glass roof would have had to be constructed in one go and it was not possible. "This scheme is just as ambitious and fits in well with the redevelopment all along the river."

No details on funding were available yesterday but the Arts Council has promised up to pounds 20m of Lottery money, the Heritage Lottery Fund is said to have pledged a further pounds 20m and the publisher Lord Hamlyn is putting up pounds 19m.

A master planner for the complex will be appointed early in the new year and competitions will be held for each element of the new strategy.