South Bank: Small businesses ordered to move for 'biggest ever' office development

Candice Desmet, founder of Act'in Theatre and Matthew Demwell, a local resident involved in the campaign (Save Waterloo Paradise )
Candice Desmet, founder of Act'in Theatre and Matthew Demwell, a local resident involved in the campaign (Save Waterloo Paradise )

Businesses operating from an arts space in the South Bank have to move out in the new year to make way for Lambeth’s biggest-ever office development.

Small enterprises operating out of Old Paradise Yard - a former Tibetan Buddhist Centre converted into co-working space on the South Bank - will have to find new offices early next year.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation has told an arts workspace provider Eat Work Play, which rents out the studios to the businesses, that it won’t extend its lease at the end of January 2024.

The news has come as a surprise to the traders at Old Paradise Yard who understood the foundation would let them remain on the site until building work on its planned life science and medical technology hub began.

Lambeth Council approved the sprawling office-led development, which will stretch across an area the size of 27 football pitches, in December last year.

But in August, Housing Secretary Michael Gove ordered the project to halt while he decided whether to hold a public inquiry into the proposals.

Businesses from Old Paradise Yard and supporters from the local community rallied outside the foundation’s headquarters in Central London on Thursday, November 2, to protest its decision not to extend the lease.

 (Save Waterloo Paradise)
(Save Waterloo Paradise)

Candice Desmet, 35, who runs Act’In Theatre, a bilingual French and English drama school from Old Paradise Yard, said she believed the foundation was refusing to extend the lease as punishment for businesses objecting to the redevelopment plans previously.

Speaking on Thursday, she said: “This is punishment for raising our voice against the plans. It’s not the definition of charity to punish people. It’s unique what we have here. They are destroying our premises and it will destabilise the business. I don’t have a plan B.”

Leo Lawson O’Neil, director of Eat Work Art, branded the foundation’s decision not to renew their lease while the development plans were on hold “outrageous.”

He said: “We were always promised a discussion, plenty of notice, a mutually beneficial plan and [that] meanwhile use would continue as close to demolition as possible. [The foundation] has gone back on all of that with no explanation.”

In a statement, the foundation said the end of the five-year lease at Old Paradise Yard was being “incorrectly represented as evictions”.

The foundation added: “The lease was always coming to an end on 30 January 2024 and this has not been influenced by any objections to future plans for the site.

“The foundation is proud of how the site has been temporarily put to use rather than left vacant. This was achieved through a lease to Eat Work Art as a temporary ‘meanwhile’ use space to be used for community and commercial purposes.

“We are in active and ongoing conversation with the lead tenant, Eat Work Art, to ensure a support package is in place for sub-tenants and they are able to remain onsite until the lease expires at the end of January next year..”