The South Bank show – London’s cultural powerhouse grows up

Tuesday 13 October 2015

The South Bank has now firmly established itself as a viable location for business, residential and retail, catalyzed initially by the Jubilee Line Extension and cheaper rents, and latterly by its own critical mass.

Now it is working to pull its reputation as a cultural powerhouse further into the boroughs and along the river with a new ‘Waterline’ concept in a bid to create destinations and aid better placemaking.

Those were some of the headline thoughts to emerge from a fascinating NLA On Location conference sponsored by CBRE, Charles Russell Speechly and Futurecity held at the new Rambert Dance Studio on Upper Ground yesterday.

News UK director of communications and corporate affairs Guto Harri kicked off, saying that ‘the big advantage of this neck of the woods is that aesthetically it is just so beautiful’. But it was its accessibility that helped News UK decide to relocate to the ‘Baby Shard’, where newspapers are each on their own floors, and where a corporate transformation has taken place, aided by design and better facilities and blessed by attractions for staff out of the office that include Borough Market. Indeed, the Shard is itself another viable and iconic landmark to ‘anchor’ the area, said Harri, and was clearly a draw to other illustrious tenants. ‘The Shangri-La would never come to London before because they needed a cloud-capped peak’, he said

With 24 million tourists hitting the south bank each year, this is an exciting time for the ‘vibrant’ area, said CBRE chairman of residential Mark Collins, with Southwark outperforming the market and 64 schemes in the pipeline. ‘The British buyers are back’, he said. Offices are similarly buoyant, said CBRE senior director Dan Hanmer, with alignment with the rest of London being the key theme, a move begun by the opening of the JLE in 1999. South Bank attracts a diverse central London worker, said Hanmer, with rents now 90% of that in the City and expected to hit 95% in the near future, albeit with a lack of offices stock coming through.

Futurecity founder Mark Davy said the area could mirror some of the success of the High Line in New York, which had changed from a cultural line to an economic one, generating huge investment.  ‘The Waterline’ is the case for a new cultural line between the Shard and Battersea Power Station with the idea of the south bank as the beating heart, with its cultural energy driving ideas.

It is the ‘personality’ of the place that makes people want to live on the South Bank, said Southbank Centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly, with placemaking about the spirit of a place. Perhaps the infrastructure is not there in Vauxhall right now, said DSDHA director Deborah Saunt, but the joining up of conversations between commerce, planning, transport and culture is very new and welcome, said Covent Garden Market Authority chair Pam Alexander.

The conference also heard from speakers including Southwark’s Cllr Mark Williams, who said his borough had delivered the second most affordable homes in the country and Allies and Morrison’s Artur Carulla, who argued that the most critical change factor for the south bank is its proximity and connectivity to Elephant & Castle. ‘It will change the perception of the south bank and stop people thinking of the south bank in a linear way’, he said.

Battersea Power Station Development Company head of design and placemaking David Twohig said the development had a ‘leg up’ over everything else owing to its special identity and character, and had sought to create a mixed use district from the start. Placemaking was a concept that is taken so lightly and thrown around, said Twohig, and is more than just static sculptures in open spaces. But forming relationships between private companies and cultural institutions will be one of the keys to creating places going forward.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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