London Dungeon to quit Tooley Street for County Hall by Christmas

A proposal to relocate the London Dungeon to the former home of London government at County Hall on the South Bank has been approved by Lambeth Council's planning applications committee.

The grisly attraction, which has been located beneath London Bridge Station since the 1970s, will leave Southwark in December when work begins in earnest on Network Rail's rebuilding of the transport interchange.

"We have had to come to an agreement with Network Rail that we will vacate that space by the end of the year, hence timing is really quite critical for this project," Merlin Entertainments divisional director David Sharpe told councillors on Tuesday night.

"We very much feel that County Hall gives us the opportunity to bring what is a very busy attraction down to the South Bank."

The London Dungeon hopes to open in January 2013 in the former Greater London Council headquarters which already house the Sea Life London Aquarium and the ticket office for the London Eye which are also part of the Merlin Entertainments Group.

The Dungeon will take over the ground floor formerly occupied by the Dali Universe (which closed in 2010) and empty space in the basement.

At present at least 680,000 a year people visit the London Dungeon at its existing site and often long queues form in Tooley Street and Duke Street Hill to the annoyance of passengers trying to enter and leave the station.

Waterloo Community Development Group has raised concerns about the impact of the extra crowds on the busy section of the Thames Path between the London Eye and Westminster Bridge.

"We have no concerns about the change of use of the building and the introduction of the London Dungeon to County Hall," WCDG director Michael Ball told the committee.

"Its use as the home of the London Dungeon will firm up its identity as a home to cultural and visitor attractions.

"Our concern is about the impact on the Queen's Walk of the management of visitors queuing to enter the attraction.

"The Queen's Walk at this point is extraordinarily busy and it can be difficult for able-bodied adults to move through at the busiest times.

"This is primarily the result of the impact of the Eye which has 10,000 visitors a day and is the most successful paid-for visitor attraction in the country."

Mr Ball argued that the Dungeon ought to provide more space for queuing inside County Hall to alleviate the pressure on the riverside walk where the attraction's own projections show that more than 300 people could be queuing on the busiest days.

WCDG argues that, following the precedent set by the London Eye which provides several hundred thousand pounds a year towards the cost of managing and maintaining the Queen's Walk, the London Dungeon should be subject to a similar revenue funding agreement to help address the issues caused by the large crowds which are inevitably drawn to high-profile attractions.

Merlin's David Sharpe explained that the proposed design of the new South Bank Dungeon meant that queues would be less likely to form: "The capacity inside the attraction is far more than we have at Tooley Street by about 200 people," he said.

"So on the majority of days I very much doubt that you will see a queue outside.

"Obviously the queue is good for business – we know that – but I think we would manage it very well."

After discussion and advice from officers the application was agreed without adopting the revenue solution.

"Lambeth has thrown away millions of pounds through a decision based on complete ignorance of what has been going on, on the South Bank, for the last 12 years," said Michael Ball after the meeting.

"They have gone backwards. Lambeth in 2000 was further ahead and more far thinking than they are now."

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