Skateboarders force London arts centre to halt demolition plans

One of the world's best-known skateboarding spots has been saved from demolition after a campaign by London skaters that was backed by mayor Boris Johnson.

The Southbank arts centre announced plans last March to fund a new £120 million ($195 million, 145 million euro) wing by knocking down a set of concrete banks which skateboarders have been using for four decades, and replacing them with coffee shops and restaurants.

It offered to build a new skatepark under a nearby bridge over the River Thames.

But more than 67,000 people signed a petition against the plans and 35,000 lodged official planning objections with the local council.

Conservative mayor Johnson stepped in to the row on January 15, saying the park was the "epicentre of UK skateboarding and is part of the cultural fabric of London", and attracted tourists from around the world.

"Southbank Centre's board will withhold its planning application for the Festival Wing, following mayor Boris Johnson's statement that the skate park should be retained in its current position in any redevelopment," the centre said in a statement on its website.

"The mayor has the final say in the planning process and the scheme is therefore unlikely to gain planning permission without the retention of the skate park."

The centre, home to renowned arts venues such as the Hayward Art Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, said it would "now undertake a final search for an alternative funding model to keep the widely supported Festival Wing redevelopment scheme alive".

The Long Live Southbank Campaign, set up by skateboarders to fight the centre's plans, gave a cautious response to the statement.

"This in NO way means Southbank skate spot has been saved. We have been here before, many times. We will continue," it said in a statement.

"We will also not allow the Southbank Centre to make skaters the fall guy for a hugely unpopular design plan. It is the design that is at fault, not us."

The Southbank park was the birthplace of skateboarding in Britain in the 1970s, when its dingy covered concrete space provided refuge in a rainy climate for a sport imported from sunny California.

It has since won a name as a mecca for skaters around the globe, featuring in numerous videos and in the best-selling computer game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, as well as providing a home for BMXers and graffiti artists.