When I was in London sometime last year, wandering along the South Bank, a group of people were asking for signatures to help save the skateboarding and graffiti area known as the Undercroft, beneath the Southbank Centre. I did have some prior knowledge of this situation so I was keen to put my name to the list.The local council had wanted to clear out the skateboarders to make way for nondescript shops – my initial response was that if the purpose of the Southbank was to provide a hub for culture, why can it not accommodate the skateboarders and graffiti artists? The Undercroft is the perfect place for this very urban culture, tucked out-of-the-way below the Queen Elizabeth Hall (next to the National Theatre). It has existed there happily for decades – ‘culture’ much is broader than, and certainly not exclusive to, the established arts; it flourishes on many levels.
Here is the joint statement issued by Lambeth council and the skateboarders (quoted from the Long Live Southbank website):-
After 17 months, we can announce Southbank is finally saved – a massive thank you to all who stood with us. Happy reading…
LONG LIVE SOUTHBANK AND SOUTHBANK CENTRE SECURE
FUTURE OF UNDERCROFT FOR SKATEBOARDING AND URBAN ACTIVITIES
Following talks that have taken place over the last three months, Long Live Southbank and Southbank Centre are delighted to have reached an agreement that secures the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft as the long-term home of British skateboarding and the other urban activities for which it is famous.
The agreement has been formalised in a binding planning agreement with Lambeth Council. In the agreement, Southbank Centre agrees to keep the undercroft open for use without charge for skateboarding, BMX riding, street writing and other urban activities.
On the basis of the protections secured by the planning agreement, Southbank Centre and Long Live Southbank have withdrawn their respective legal actions in relation to the undercroft. These include Southbank Centre’s challenge to the registration of the undercroft as an asset of community value, Long Live Southbank’s application for village green status for the undercroft, and a judicial review of Lambeth Council’s decision to reject the village green application.
Long Live Southbank is pleased to support Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing project for the improvement of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, on the basis that the plans will now no longer include any redevelopment within the skate area of the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft.
Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council said; “I’m pleased that Lambeth Council was able to work with both sides and find an imaginative solution to resolve this. Shared public space in London is precious and Southbank Centre is a great asset to the country’s cultural life. This agreement is a sensible way of protecting both and we can all now look forward.”
Long Live Southbank would like to thank all our supporters and we would like to thank the Mayor of London for his intervention and Southbank Centre for its constructive approach to the negotiations that have achieved this outcome.The saving of the Undercroft has had a major effect on the plans to redevelop the Southbank – for ‘redevelopment’ read ‘clad in glass’. This attempt to ‘pretty-up’ the Southbank is a dishonest betrayal of the brutalist architecture. Brutilism is a much maligned movement, a sentiment which in many cases is justified, but the bad examples should not be used to discredit all brutalist buildings – the National Theatre and surrounding buildings being a prime example. Cladding it in glass is not a solution, it is a deception.