The leadership of a respected local community group has dismissed the sketchy scheme by a Chinese businessman to build a vast new Crystal Palace over part of the park as “a fantasy”. They have also expressed the fear that while the building scheme seeks planning permission, already agreed and much-needed work on improving the park, funded by a £7.5 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, will grind to a halt.
“We should really be looking forward to a new world with new needs and aspirations,” the local community stakeholder group says in an open letter today to Ni Zhaoxing, the chairman of ZhongRong Group who has got the backing of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, for his proposals.
As we reported earlier this month, the ZhongRong Group’s £500 million scheme to develop a replica of Joseph Paxton’s Victorian steel and glass palace on the site atop Sydenham Hill was announced at a carefully managed press conference, but with community groups barely consulted and physically excluded from the event.
Since then, Ni has sent a message to the community groups. But while he has the support of the London Mayor who has already saddled London with the expensive-to-operate Boris Bikes, has Londoners shouldering the costs of the little-used Dangleway, and left commuters trying to cope with the impractical Boris Bus, the Chinese billionaire does not appear to have won Crystal Palace locals over to his backward-looking project.
The original Crystal Palace, which was moved piece-by-piece to be re-constructed in Sydenham after hosting the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, was burnt down in 1936, leaving a scar above the site of the 180-acre park ever since which has been subject to numerous development schemes, all unfulfilled, often after strong opposition from residents who have resisted attempts to build on the Grade II*-listed park.
Today, Martin Tempia, the chair of Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholder Group, wrote to Ni, “We appreciate your interest in our park and the possibility of significant investment in its regeneration.
“The biggest concern is that, in reality, not enough is known at present about the detail of your proposition. We have over many years sought to protect the park from overtly commercial development taking up too much green space and also to try and find a way to improve its sad state of repair. We see that your scheme may provide a route to fulfilling both these aims.
“We also appreciate your comments about community engagement and view this as a critical step to improve understanding and to allow us to participate in the development of the detail of the scheme. As your brochure states, a re-imagined Crystal Palace ‘must be owned and loved by the local community’.
“It is true that the Crystal Palace… was a major influence on subsequent architectural practice around the world… Time has moved on and, although there are some people who would like to see the fantasy return, we should really be looking forward to a new world with new needs and aspirations,” Tempia wrote.
“One important concern of ours is that, while your proposition develops into a full-blown planning application, the many smaller projects – not least the important finance of £7.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (and others) – will cease in anticipation of the new investment.
“Efforts to regenerate the park will once again languish and another period of uncertainty will afflict the many participants in these ventures,” the community activist wrote.
Coming to Croydon
- The Railway Children: Oct 30-Nov 2
- Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow: Nov 5-8
- Poppy Cafe, Coulsdon, re-opening: Nov 9
- St Giles School open morning: Nov 13
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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- Crystal Palace to be rebuilt by Chinese developer (theguardian.com)