The past decade has seen an increasing interest in the cultural economies of cities by public bodies keen to address issues of urban decline. This article documents recent developments on the South Bank of the Thames in central London where cultural investments appear to be clustered and where attempts have been made to give spatial and policy coherence to a range of new development projects. The local authority promotes the South Bank as London’s new cultural quarter. However, this strategy is an opportunist and image‐based response to dominant property speculation interests. The management of cultural production in this part of London reveals limits to local coalition building and the limited influence of local strategies on the development process. The article questions whether the cultural quarter is an appropriate scale for managing the development of cultural industries as a motor for economic development in particular.