THE OPENING SHOTS in the latest battle over yet more development plans for Crystal Palace park have been fired at a public meeting.
They came as The Information Project – a group of local residents keen to get people to make up their minds up about the latest proposal for the top site in Crystal Palace park – posed the question:’Who owns culture? – park space building’
Chinese development company ZhongRong announced plans last October to ‘rebuild’ the Crystal Palace at a press conference in Crystal Palace park attended by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
But community campaigner Robert Gibson told more than 90 people at the project’s meeting held on Wednesday evening in the Salvation Army centre, Westow Street:
“Who asked the community ‘do we want a particular development?’ “That’s the fundamental question. “It’s not the top site – it’s a park” he added to applause.
“The community has been disenfranchised by this process. “We cannot influence strategic areas. “If we set up a neighbourhood forum we’d be excluded from that.
“There is no community representative on the panel considering architects’ proposals.”
From the floor of the meeting, Mr Gibson said that prior to the new development proposals for the top site “in that period before the Chinese invaded us” there had been community efforts in the park on a small scale which included giving some “tender loving care” to the sphinxes.
A grant application had been made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and they had begun to get the Greater London Authority involved and looking at other issues.
“Then suddenly this big giant spaceship comes down.” (laughter).
“We want the GLA and Boris Johnson and the five boroughs to say: ‘What would you like for that park?’ – not ‘We’ll decide what’s good for you’.”
Panellist Val Shawcross, Greater London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, told the meeting: “There are people in Bromley and City Hall who define public interest as reducing the public outlay on Crystal Palace park. (laughter)
“Bromley, ZhongRong and Arup (the lead consultants for the proposed project) have got little to say to us but are talking about putting in a planning application by the end of this year.
“We are in danger of being cut out of the process “The community must get its hands on this debate. “It must force a proper consultation. “Arup say there will be one but looking at that timescale I don’t think there can be a good and proper consultation.
“City Hall and Boris Johnson have expressed too much admiration for this project for him to be there to look at it critically.
“The fundamental problem is we are being kept in the dark about this building.
“What’s the point of a building that has no real purpose?” (Applause)
“The key problem is still Bromley council – Bromley council are treating ZhongRong as generous benefactors. “The first thing they should be doing is thinking about the public interest.
“We’ve got to deal with this challenge here and now. “The community needs to be coming up with an agenda again and pushing it. “But most of all we should be shining a light on this corner of London as much as possible.
“Until we know let’s shout very loud and have a very loud public debate about this. “If we sit around and wait passively for a consultation to come the bus could have left.
“I don’t think anything like this cack-handed process would ever go on looking at Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath or Alexandra Palace.”
Earlier she had quoted Cicero: “The health of the people is the highest law” – which is on the coat of arms of Lewisham and other boroughs elsewhere.
“I feel that’s what we should be challenging – Bromley’s treatment of the park at the moment. “If you look at it just as health, recent research by the British Medical Association shows that communities that live near public space and enjoy the recreation and exercise also enjoy enormous health benefits.
“We’re dangerously uncertain about the future of the park at the moment. “It feels like a betrayal. “We want the local democratic state to be on our side but I’m not confident at the moment. “I hope I’m proved to be a pessimist.”
Veteran campaigner and highly-respected Crystal Palace Community Association president Audrey Hammond recalled that back in the early 1970s 200 members of what was then the CPTCA (T for Triangle) had carried a ‘Save Our Park’ banner around the area.
On that occasion Mr Sebag Montefiore wanted to build a Disneyland in the park. “Fortunately that died a death pretty quickly” she recalled.
“I cannot agree more with Val Shawcross. who put it so perfectly: It’s the health of the nation, the health of the neighbourhood. “That’s so important.
“When the Crystal Palace was built it was fields and farms. “Now it’s solid with development – and it’s getting more solid.
“What people need is not manicured gardens and a park where children go to force them to spend money. “We want rough grass to play on. “The kids need somewhere to run about and get what fresh air there is.
“I can’t believe we can accept a great lump of development from a foreign developer who knows nothing about this area. “They should have thought and said: ‘Do you want this?’ before they started on this design for making money out of Crystal Palace park.”
Crystal Palace Campaign chairman Ray Sacks said there had been a Heritage Lottery Fund bid of £7.5 million for an element of refurbishing the park. “That was completely cancelled because of the ZhongRong desire to build on the top site.
“There’s a way forward that’s not necessarily a large scale commercial development on the top site” he added.
Nick Goy of West Beckenham residents association said: “This isn’t just about the hilltop. “Bromley’s plans refer to disposal of the property and the property is defined as half the park.
“The National Sports Centre already takes up about a quarter of the park. “That’s on a 125 year lease and now it’s proposed to dispose of another half of the park for another 125 years to a foreign commercial property developer.
“Things can be improved – toilets, flower beds, swings. “But it doesn’t cost £500 million” he added.
Tom Chance of the Green party said they had suggested putting the park into a community trust.
“Bromley council said a straight flat ‘No’.”The Mayor’s office said ‘No’. “The developer wanted complete control of the process.
“There’s no way that development will remain the same for 125 years in the same model when we’re talking about public space.
“We have to have a red line saying it’s owned by the people. “No consultation process will give us the ability to control this” he added.
Panellist Gus Zogolovitch, managing director of design-led developer Solidspace suggested a small committee try and get hold of a planning barrister who might give pro bono advice on whether due process was being followed or not.
“If you are going to take this seriously and fight developers you’ll need really good legal advice to do this.”
But fellow panellist Douglas Murphy who is an architect, writer, and architecture correspondent for Icon magazine cautioned: “Anecdotally it’s quite well-known that by the time they’re consulting, decisions have been made.
“It seems to be the case with many large developments.”
Birds and the bees – and much more: The meeting was the first of three.
Debate 2: Play Space / Green Space: Claiming territory in the urban heritage – community-led or master-plan structures Wednesday May 28th, 7:30pm Salvation Army centre, Westow Street SE19
(An Information Centre spokeswoman told NFCP: “It will not be a detailed birds and bees survey.
“The topic will be centered around play, space and public involvement, which includes sustainability in a wider sense.
“Please head to our Facebook page for more details.”
Debate 3: Heritage / Sport : Opportunity in the shadow of dinosaurs – private-public recreation and leisure in the Olympic Legacy. June 21st venue to be confirmed but hopefully the National Sports Centre.
– the next will concentrate on the insect life, wildlife and ecology of the park. (Details not yet available)
Dateline October 8th 2013: CRYSTAL PALACE COULD RISE FROM THE ASHES WITHIN FIVE YEARS
THE CRYSTAL PALACE – destroyed in a conflagration on December 1st 1936 – could rise from the ashes within the next five years.
Work on the project could start by December 2015, a historic press conference held in Crystal Palace park was told this morning (Thursday).
The initial plans would see the Crystal Palace rebuilt using Joseph Paxton’s original glass building on the OUTSIDE – but with major differences INSIDE.
Other parts of the £500 million scheme include:
No housing either in the park or on the caravan site – removing the biggest objection of all to the already-approved Masterplan.
Potential reintroduction of plans to bring the tram up to Crystal Palace
Existing bus station to be accommodated INSIDE the Crystal Palace
Retention of the Caravan Club – as the new plans currently stand – in its current setting.
To find the whole story – and others – search ZhongRong and / or Boris Johnson on this website. ‘Massive Chinese takeaway planned for Crystal Palace’ can be found on the Virtual Norwood blogsite under news and local issues.
For the history of the Masterplan go to the CPCA and / or Crystal Palace Campaign websites. For the history of the planned multiplex development proposals which preceded that see the Crystal Palace magazine website (History – page three):
“Crystal Palace Campaign 10th anniversary by Jerry Green • April 2, 2007 It was an innocent-looking planning application, which someone has since described as looking like it was about tennis courts……….”