On London’s Southbank, amidst the endless tourists, trendy restaurants and major international arts venues, you’ll find a bunch of teenagers using a low-ceilinged concrete cave as a skate park.
The undercroft, as it’s known, has been the subject of a vicious battle between developers and skateboarders over the past year and a half. In 2013, the Southbank Centre, the surrounding complex of galleries and concert halls, released plans for a £120m redevelopment scheme, in order to create new rehearsal rooms.
To help fund all this, a key part of the plan was to turn the undercroft into retail space, kicking the skaters out. In retaliation, a group of them formed the Long Live Southbank campaign group, to defend their right to stay put.
And yesterday, they won. The two sides have reached a consensus that the skate park will be left alone, and that Long Live Southbank will cooperate with other development plans in the area. All associated legal actions have now been dropped. How this will change the original redevelopment plans is not entirely clear.
The campaign’s success is partly due to the enormous amount of support it received from political figures – not least the mayor, Boris Johnson, who in January knowledgeably opined that the undercroft was the “epicentre of UK skateboarding”.
One person who won’t be pleased with the news is Billy Bragg, the activist and singer. He wrote a piece for The Guardian claiming the eviction was appropriate given the area’s “chronic lack of rehearsal space”. Right.