Plans for a new, world-class London concert hall, championed by Sir Simon Rattle, have been formally killed off by the City of London Corporation, a little over a month after the conductor announced his departure for Munich.
The Corporation’s policy and resources committee has confirmed that the ambitious £288 million Centre for Music scheme will not be progressed, citing the “current unprecedented circumstances”.
It’s not an unexpected decision. Prospects for the plan for a new home for Rattle’s London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on the site to be vacated by the Museum of London had looked increasingly uncertain since the government pulled the plug on £5.5 million funding in 2016.
The Corporation had ridden to the rescue, earmarking the museum site and funding the scheme’s business case and design work, with eye-catching designs by US “starchitects” Diller Scofidio + Renfro giving the project a further boost two years ago.
Rattle had continued to bang the drum for the project as Brexit became a reality, describing the new venue as a “sign of London as a dynamic cultural city, at a time when we are going to need this more and more” even as other voices kept up the complaint that the capital was already well served for classical music venues.
But the impact of the pandemic seems to have proved to be the death-knell for a scheme that was always going to be reliant on private funding as well as the successful completion of the Museum’s £337 million move to Smithfield, which is itself dependent on the relocation of the Corporation’s Smithfield market to Dagenham Dock along with New Spitalfields and Billingsgate.
The Corporation struck an upbeat note yesterday, announcing the coup de grace for the scheme alongside revealing a major facelift for the 40-year-old Grade II listed Barbican Centre, renewed funding for the London Symphony Orchestra and a further two-year investment in its “Culture Mile” initiative.
“Support for culture and the arts has never been more important, and we recognise that this sector will play a vital role in the post-Covid recovery of the City, the capital, and the UK,” said policy and resources chair Catherine McGuinness.
“We will continue to support our globally-renowned arts venues, and the exciting plans for the new Museum of London as they progress, enhancing London’s economic growth and reaffirming the capital’s creative sector as a major player in the economic recovery from the pandemic,” she added.
The loss of the Centre for Music scheme nevertheless leaves a significant hole in the middle of the Culture Mile, the district between Farringdon and Moorgate designated by the Corporation as a “new destination for creativity, innovation, and learning” – literally so when the Museum of London relocates – and in the capital’s cultural offer as well.
City Hall figures show the significance of culture for the capital, generating £47 billion a year for the UK economy, with four out of five tourists saying London’s culture is their main reason for visiting.
Last week the Corporation warned that the impact of the pandemic on London’s creative sector amounted to a “cultural catastrophe”, and called on cultural organisations and businesses to “work together and harness London’s creative energy to retain its position as the best city in the world in which to live, work, learn and invest”.
Alternative proposals for the museum site will be brought forward over the coming months, the Corporation said.
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