Southbank Centre predicts 400% visitor increase to Festival Wing post revamp

An artist's impression of the Southbank Centre's Festival Wing scheme. Photo: Miller Hare
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The Southbank Centre in London expects to quadruple the number of visits to its Festival Wing if its £120 million redevelopment of the complex goes ahead.

Total number of visits to the Festival Wing - a part of the site that includes the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Hayward Gallery and Purcell Room – would be expected to rise from 600,000 to around 2.5 million.

Plans for the project are still yet to be approved. If the project goes ahead, the organisation estimates a visitor increase of 25% to its free programme, bringing in around 2 million more visits. These figures represent non-ticketed visits.

As part of plans to expand this free programme, the organisation intends to increase the opening hours of the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which is currently not in operation during the day. It will also use its new central foyer space – which will connect the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the BFI Southbank - for performances, art installations and exhibitions. These areas are expected to attract 1.4 million visitors.

Meanwhile, performances are expected to be staged in a new public square located between the Royal Festival Hall and the Festival Wing, and the organisation will open its roof gardens – that will triple in size – year-round.

It also hopes to attract around 250,000 visitors per year to its glass pavilion – a new venue it hopes to build for showcasing orchestra rehearsals and performances – a new exhibition space, and a poetry and literature centre.

A proposed expanded free education programme, that would take place in new spaces within the development, has also contributed to the predicted rise in visitors.

The organisation does not expect to see an increase to its overall number of visitors - currently totalling 2.5 million - to the entire site, which includes the terrace areas and the Royal Festival Hall.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, said: “We see this new development as a major part of our ambition to give away as much free culture as possible, having as profound an effect on arts centres as it had for museums and galleries. Because people know there is always something free going on, they are more likely to visit.

“Our summer festival programme is an increasing part of London life and with the Festival Wing we can dramatically expand our winter programme, making full use of the fantastic new venues we will create.”

Earlier this year National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner submitted a formal objection to the public consultation on the design. He claimed that a new construction to be built along Waterloo bridge, known as a ‘liner’ building, would block views of the National from the river and from its own terraces.

There has also been an ongoing campaign from skaters that use the area beneath the Southbank Centre, who object to proposals that would see them moved further along the river to a new skate park.

The Southbank Centre has now updated its plans and re-submitted them to its local authority Lambeth Council.

These improvements include pulling back the ‘liner’ building three metres from the river front. The organisation has also recently made a binding legal commitment to ensure the proposed new skate space under Hungerford Bridge is made permanently and freely available to skateboarders.