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Government offers lukewarm support for South Bank film centre

The Government's long-awaited culture green paper published last week has offered cautious support for the British Film Institute's proposed Film Centre on the South Bank.

Hungerford Car Park seen from the London Eye in 20
Hungerford Car Park seen from the London Eye in 2004
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
The green paper published by Andy Burnham says that the BFI has to make the economic case for the Film Centre.

For some years the British Film Institute – whose National Film Theatre was last year rebranded BFI Southbank – has wanted to build a new centre for the British film industry somewhere in SE1.

The BFI says that the 55-year-old NFT under Waterloo Bridge is nearing the end of its useful life and a new building on a new site is needed.

Its new Film Centre would have five screens (compared to three at the current BFI Southbank), an external screen for outdoor projections as well as enhanced exhbition and research spaces.

Sites considered and rejected include Potters Fields, the Shell Centre, the BFI IMAX site and Doon Street.

The BFI's favoured site is the Hungerford Car Park between Jubilee Gardens and the Royal Festival Hall – a controversial choice with some local residents and campaign groups who believe the land should be used to extend Jubilee Gardens.

The notion that the car park should become a green space had cross-party support from candidates in Bishop's Ward at the 2006 local elections. Indeed, the car park site is designated as Metropolitan Open Land in Lambeth Council's unitary development plan.

Now the green paper – entitled Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy – published last week by culture secretary Andy Burnham – has offered conditional support for the BFI's proposals.

"The BFI's proposal for the building of a new film centre on London's South Bank will allow access to the archive, the library, exhibitions and cultural film in one place and has the potential to cement Britain's place as a major international centre for film.

"This proposal is at an early stage and the Government is working with the UK Film Council and the BFI to determine whether the conditions can be met to attract significant funding from public and private sources to make this project a reality and bring enjoyment, celebration and film to London and the rest of the UK.

"Government support is conditional upon the BFI producing a viable business plan to address these conditions."

Meanwhile it has been confirmed that former BBC director-general Greg Dyke is to take over as chair of the British Film Institute on 1 March.

"This is an exciting moment to be joining the BFI," says Greg Dyke. "My predecessor Anthony Minghella has done a brilliant job in refocusing the BFI in a new direction and my job is to take the BFI's ambitious strategy to the next level in both the virtual and physical worlds, so that we have a centre that puts film right at the heart of cultural Britain and makes it the envy of the world."

The Government's comments on the Film Centre proposals were published in the same week that The Movieum of London – a new independently-funded movie attraction at County Hall – opened its doors to the public.

London has been without a museum of film and television since the Museum of the Moving Image closed its doors in 1999.

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