Why Southbank is in danger

The reason why the iconic Southbank skatepark is now in danger of being demolished is all down to the Southbank Centre's new £120million redevelopment plan by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios called the "Festival Wing" which sets out to fill the space with cafes and restaurants, which are already in high abundance on their premises.


This plan was unveiled to the public on March 6th 2013, just two months before it was submitted to Lambeth Council's planning department on May 13th 2013.

There was no public consultation prior to the announcement of the "Festival Wing", despite the fact that there is an entire community of artists who would be directly affected by its removal, as well as the fact that it is a cherished landmark to the people of London and also the millions of tourists that visit it each year, including professional skateboarders.

The only form of engagement with the public was through an online questionnaire which was launched at the same time as the revealing of this new development.


As you will notice, the 5 questions in this survey are clearly worded in such a way as to steer opinion in favour of the "Festival Wing", which is quite misleading when you also consider the fact that there is no mention about the world renowned skatepark being demolished as a direct consequence of its construction.

This survey was also closed down well in advance of the planning application being submitted to the council...followed shortly by their announcement of the results:

These pie charts were also produced along with the above statement:

To this day the Southbank Centre has yet to publish the full results of this survey, which would include the comments people were asked to submit along with it.

Also, this survey suggests that the public's feedback had an influence on the plan's final design despite such a short consultation period, which we feel is highly unlikely considering the enormity of the overall project which would take 3 years to complete.

As controversy began to now circulate around the whole issue, the Southbank Centre launched this video featuring their director of planning and partnerships Mike McCart, explaining why they want retail units in place of the skatepark:

In this video he states that the retail units that would go in place of the current skatepark are pivotal to the scheme's funding, when in reality they will only generate 8% of the £120million total...and not instantly but over a period of a few years.

It was around the same time as this video went online that our campaign was set up to join the fight in saving the undercroft for all its users, including the non-skaters such as the graffiti artists who had felt especially marginalised up until our arrival on the scene.

Initially, our role was purely to provide graphics and photography related to the cause for circulation on the internet and campaign graffiti in the undercroft itself, in a bid to spread more awareness on the matter.



However, because of our previous experience and success with dealing with controversial planning applications affecting local communities, we decided to investigate Lambeth Council's website to see if the Southbank Centre had submitted its "Festival Wing" plan.

Much to our shock we found out on May 26th that they had indeed put through their planning application nearly two weeks earlier on May 13th, without informing the other campaigns who had been in constant dialogue with them in regular meetings.
Surprisingly, the British media also failed to report on this, despite their continuous coverage of the undercroft story on an almost daily basis (though never mentioning our campaign).


Further investigations also uncovered that the Southbank Centre applied for (and were granted) a certificate of immunity by English Heritage a year earlier, which means the site cannot be protected as a cultural heritage site until 2017.

These discoveries signalled a major turning point for SOS Resistance as we now felt it was our duty to get more politically involved with the situation and provide a much higher level of support to the overall cause.

Thanks to the Save Southbank campaign who gave us access to their online petition, we were able to immediately alert all petitioners about the planning application and give them step-by-step instructions on how to submit their objections to it, as well as point out the 5 key words within it that signify the destruction of the 40 year old skatepark: 


We also made photocopies of the SINGLE planning notice (standard practice for councils) that was tied to a set of stairs in front of the undercroft, so that we could plaster them all over the walls of the skatepark, including surrounding one of our graffiti pieces:


By the time the July 5th deadline to submit objections arrived, we had managed to direct a record breaking 3000+ objections towards it:

Fellow campaigners Long Live Southbank managed to gather an additional 10,000+ paper objections collected at the undercroft, after we highlighted the issue to them:

During this same deadline week the neighbouring National Theatre also submitted a 3000+ word objection to the Southbank Centre's plans on July 3rd, with its director Nicholas Hytner appearing in an article dedicated to it in The Guardian newspaper the following day.

This was followed by an immediate response from the Southbank Centre who successfully appealed to Lambeth Council to have their planning application put on hold just one day before the July 5th deadline to submit objections, stating that this request was made in order to "review whether our scheme is achieving the very best balance of opportunities for current and future generations".

While this was seen as a victory by the press and other campaigns, we publicly announced that our view was far more cynical about the situation, especially after having found this deceptive counter-petition circulating on their premises just a week earlier:


We believed that the pausing of the planning application was done purely because the Southbank Centre had realised that there was now a serious chance that their development would fail to be granted planning permission at the committee meeting in August, particularly if the National Theatre's objections flagged up key architectural flaws within the scheme.

Our prediction was that the Southbank Centre still had no intention of saving the undercroft skatepark and would instead use this time to tweak any design issues in their plans, while continuing to fiercely push for the skatepark's relocation.

Literally within hours, our scepticism was proved right when the Southbank Centre launched this video:

Not only does their artistic director Jude Kelly make it clear that they still want to replace the undercroft with cafes and restaurants, but she also insinuates that the campaigns trying to preserve it have been misleading the public about the whole situation, which is simply untrue.

On the very same day, the Southbank Centre also shared an article featured in the Evening Standard on their "Southbank For All" Facebook page, which carried on the same theme of Jude Kelly's article a day earlier where she referred to the skateboarders and future users of the "Festival Wing" as "tribes", a term many members of the public commented on as being quite derogatory towards both parties and even slightly racist.

This rhetoric signalled the beginning of a propaganda war against campaigners trying to protect the undercroft, who have since been portrayed as enemies of the arts and the "marginalised" and "completely different" members of the local community who wish to benefit from the new development.

Undeterred by having consistently exposed the Southbank Centre publicly about these rather unsavoury tactics, they continued to defiantly play this "us versus them" game at every opportunity possible, including a public meeting with Simon Hughes MP on July 11th.

However, as with all their previous attempts, this backfired on them as the public were fully in support of the preservation of the undercroft and those trying to save it.

The meeting concluded with Simon Hughes urging that the Southbank Centre and the preservation campaigns work together towards a solution.

However it wasn't until over a month later that the Southbank Centre engaged with us again by sending out an email for an INVITE ONLY workshop to be held during the weekend of September 14th & 15th.

Along with the fact that it was not publicly advertised, this weekend workshop was to also be facilitated by Phelim McDermott who is a resident artist at the company Metal, which is founded and chaired by the Southbank Centre's own artistic director Jude Kelly.

The icing on the cake to the Southbank Centre's obvious continuation of underhanded tactics came when they launched this video pushing for the Hungerford Bridge skatepark relocation just 5 days before the meeting with us:

To add yet further insult, the conclusion of this meeting was that if the preservation campaigns and public wish to retain the historic undercroft skatepark, they would need to raise £17million within 6 months!

The Monday following this farce of a workshop also saw the Southbank Centre put up this huge banner over the skatepark:

Following all this, it was now completely obvious to us that all talks with the Southbank Centre would be a total waste of time as they were still not listening to the 70,000+ members of the public on the petition, or the thousands of official objections to their planning application (the most unpopular in UK history), let alone us and fellow campaigners.

As things went back to square one and all hopes of working with them in an amicable way fell apart again, it wasn't long before they did another very suspicious thing.....announcing that the undercroft needed to be shut down for "essential repairs":

Suspecting that this was a sneaky attempt to shut the skatepark down indefinitely, we went down to inspect the premises to see if there was anything we could find to confirm our suspicions.

Just as expected, we found something....their new planning application notice for the Hungerford Bridge skatepark relocation:

So, just as the previous time, we alerted the public via the online petition to register their official objections to this application while also encouraging them to share this image, to help spread awareness.

We also urged the public to help us maintain the Southbank Centre in the spotlight regarding the closure of the undercroft, as we were very sure that these two things were orchestrated to coincide together.....worst case scenario being that the undercroft would be closed forever and its replacement at Hungerford Bridge being given planning permission and subsequently promoted as a "rescue package" to the displaced users of the undercroft.

After having helped to make this planning application just as unpopular as their previous one, the biggest turning point in the fight to save the skatepark was to come soon after, when Mayor Boris Jonhson made a public statement in support of its preservation.

To celebrate (and to help maintain the pressure on him to stick to his stance), we created this image for the public to share and mention in any correspondence with him:

Thanks to the public's support, this image is one of our most shared so far....and the Facebook status update it is featured on has been the most viewed out of all our posts, having been seen by nearly 50,000 people:

Due to the fact that the Mayor has the final say on whether the £120million "Festival Wing" plan is granted planning permission this came as a major knockout blow to the Southbank Centre who had no choice but to yet again pause their planning application to Lambeth Council following a public statement where a solution to find an alternative means of funding their project needed to be met within 3 months and preferably with the help of all key stakeholders, including preservation campaigns such as ours.

However, after a month since this announcement we have yet to hear from the Southbank Centre.

The story continues...

Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook page for the latest developments from the SOS Resistance camp.


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