London

'South Bank' plan for Woolwich Royal Arsenal approved

Artist's impression of the theatre Image copyright Greenwich Council
Image caption A 'black box' theatre seating up to 450 people is planned

Plans for a "new South Bank" on the site of the former Royal Arsenal munitions factory have been approved.

Greenwich Council has given the go-ahead for a 450-seat theatre, a performance courtyard and 10 rehearsal studios at the Woolwich development in south-east London.

The first phase will cost £32m and create 400 jobs, the council said.

Historian Ian Bull emphasised the historical nature of the buildings must be respected.

South Bank, in central London, was developed after the bombed-out riverside was cleared and developed for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Later, the Royal Festival Hall was joined by the Hayward Gallery and Royal National Theatre to create an area of largely state-funded arts and entertainment venues.

Image copyright Greenwich Council
Image caption The plans include rehearsal studios and a performance quadrangle

In council documents, officers said the development would reinforce "changing perceptions" of the area as a destination and provide "a purpose" for people to use Crossrail to visit Woolwich.

It added: "The total useable space is comparable, if not larger, than the creative space provided in the South Bank Centre".

Services on Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line, are due to begin next year.

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Media captionLondon's 'secret' WW1 factory city

The Royal Arsenal was a large gun and ammunitions manufacturing site before 1914, when it expanded to service the World War One effort.

It had its own internal railway system and employed more than 80,000 workers.

Image copyright Topical Press Agency
Image caption Woolwich Arsenal pictured during a strike in 1914

The Ministry of Defence released the Royal Arsenal for development in 1997.

Greenwich Council has secured the lease on four buildings, including a former cartridge factory.

Mr Bull, a member of Royal Arsenal Historical Society, said it was the "UK's greatest ever factory - an extraordinarily important site which really should not be forgotten".

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