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Southbank Centre withdraws plans for rooftop performance space after critics claimed the designs would ‘vandalise iconic building’

The Southbank Centre has abandoned plans to install a rooftop bar at the grade I-listed Royal Festival Hall. Shutterstock
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London’s Southbank Centre has abandoned plans to install a rooftop bar and outdoor performance space after receiving more than 100 objections about its design, which Historic England labelled “insensitive”.

The Southbank Centre said that despite backing out of the plans, it needed to find new income streams to support its work in the face of declining public funding.

A planning application was submitted in July to create Pergola on the River, a temporary pavilion on the roof of the Royal Festival Hall, looking out over the River Thames.

It would have been in place as a bar and restaurant for three years, and after this time, would have been modified to make way for an open-air performance area for the Southbank’s arts and cultural programming.

The plans drew immediate criticism for their potential impact on the grade I-listed building, which was built in 1951, and its heritage as one of the capital’s most recognisable post-war buildings.

Lambeth council received 112 objections to the plans, with complainants claiming that the proposals amount to “vandalism” of the “iconic” building and would ruin the appearance of one of the “great Modernist buildings of London”.

Historic England described the plans as a “major insensitive intervention to a landmark building”.

It said that while it welcomed the Southbank’s intention to “open up” the riverside roof, it had “serious concerns about the designs for the proposed temporary rooftop pavilion”.

A statement from the Southbank Centre said the proposition’s feasibility “has proved to be more challenging than anticipated”.

“It is with regret therefore that we have decided to withdraw the current planning application and will consider further options for the space to help secure new income streams in order to help us maintain our estate and the fabric of the Grade I-listed Royal Festival Hall, and to deliver on our charitable objective to provide art for all at a time of falling public funding,” it said.

In its application, the Southbank identified its existing food and drink offering as a “vital source of revenue” with regard to its maintenance and ability to keep producing work, and argued that the proposed pavilion presented “a significant and increasingly essential” income opportunity.

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