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Barbican Centre needs £450m for 'essential works', report warns

The Barbican Centre estate
The Barbican Centre estate

The Barbican Centre is in need of more than £450 million for ‘essential works’, the City of London Corporation has revealed.

A spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the figure is ‘an early estimate from a consultant’, including works for repairing and replacing infrastructure to meet accessibility and net-zero requirements.

The Corporation’s report, published ahead of a Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, notes the Barbican Centre scheme as among the major projects putting pressure on City finances.

£25m has already been committed over 2023/4 and 2024/25 “to support critical health and safety needs of the Barbican Centre”, which is described as having reached “the end of its economic life”. The full cost of essential works is now however estimated at £451m, a sum not currently budgeted for.

It is expected that an additional £30m, on top of the £25m already committed, is needed to support ‘urgent’ health and safety works at the centre. Surveys on the works are expected by the spring, which will then inform a full business case.

“However, a fundamental review on how to meet the extensive refurbishment needs at the Barbican Centre is now needed,” the report adds.

The Chief Executive Officer at the Barbican Centre, Claire Spencer, is also quoted as saying: “It is not possible to run the Barbican as an arts centre if no further funding is secured for the Barbican Renewal.”

At the Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Henry Colthurst described the Barbican Centre scheme as the ‘elephant in the room’ when it came to the City Fund budget. It was also clarified during the session that the cost would be spread over the next 20/25 years.

On the £451m figure, a City of London spokesperson said: “The Barbican Centre is a world-renowned art and learning organisation, showcasing the most exciting performers and artists from around the globe.

“It is a cultural cornerstone of our Destination City programme, enhancing the Square Mile’s first-class arts and culture offer, and elevating our attractiveness as an international visitor destination.

“It is also one of the nation’s most-admired post-war buildings. However, it is now over 40 years old and, like all buildings, requires ongoing investment.

“This figure is an early estimate from a consultant, based on delivering a programme of essential works, including repairing and replacing ageing building infrastructure, and meeting accessibility and net-zero requirements.

“We are committed to the Barbican Centre – both now and in the future – and the immense value it provides to London and the UK, creatively, socially and economically.”

The initial £25m was agreed last year to start the first phase of the Barbican Renewal Programme. In a release announcing the funding, the Corporation wrote the scheme “will transform underused spaces within the centre for new creative use, whilst also investing in its existing venues and public spaces, and improving the welcome, wayfinding and technical capabilities at the site”.

The upgrade of the centre was promised after plans for a new 2,000-seat concert hall, the Centre for Music, were scrapped over costs.

Barbican campaigners are currently in the midst of fighting Corporation plans for three new office blocks on the corner of the famous Brutalist estate.

The Barbican Quarter Action Group claims the proposals, which would involve knocking down the former Museum of London building and Bastion House, amount to ‘carbon crimes’, and would remove two much-loved heritage assets from an area undergoing wider cultural renewal.

The Corporation however says demolishing the buildings is less carbon intensive than retaining the current structures, and that demand for high quality and sustainable office space ‘remains high’.