London Mayor Boris Johnson entered into a secret agreement with a Chinese billionaire six months before a £500 million scheme to build a replica Crystal Palace was announced publicly, a group of local residents allege in a letter sent to their MPs.
The residents are also claiming that the businessman, Ni Zhao, is financially backed by the Chinese government and is demanding 100 per cent control of the prestigious south London site and the building, all as part of a 125-year lease agreement from Bromley council.
ZhongRong Group, fronted by Ni Zhao, one of China’s richest men, is expected to sign the preliminary agreement with Bromley next month to permit the building of a 21st century version of the Crystal Palace on Metropolitan Open Land, including on part of the surrounding park, despite it being English Heritage Grade II* listed.
“It has been confirmed to us by the appointed agent of ZRG that they require 100 per cent control over both the land and the building in advance of committing to undertake their proposed development,” states the open letter, which has gone to local MPs Tessa Jowell, Jim Dowd, Chuka Umunna and Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, as well as to the chair of the London Assembly, Darren Johnson, who will be raising the issue at City Hall this week.
The letter continues: “…this development opportunity as it is presently being negotiated has not been openly advertised nor publicly tendered to inform the market – other willing parties may come forwards if they are aware of the opportunity and invited to bid.
“In addition to the 16-month exclusivity agreement that has been entered into between LB Bromley and ZRG running until Feb 2015, it has recently come to our attention that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Greater London Authority, LB Bromley and ZRG on 27 March 2013 – six months before the ZRG proposals were formally announced to the public.
“The MoU required that the parties agree to hold their discussions in private and that ‘…any information which reaches the public domain prematurely could have a negative and disproportionate effect on the future of the park’.”
That prediction appears to have been accurate: the Heritage Lottery Fund has already withdrawn from providing £4.5 million-worth of funding for schemes to upgrade parts of the park as a direct consequence of the Chinese scheme. Bromley Council and the Greater London Authority had between them pledged a further £3 million towards the park schemes. As the letter-writers put it, “In practical terms therefore, the park is now confronted with a loss of £7.5 million of public funding due to ZRG’s actions without any financial commitment from ZRG to compensate for this loss if their proposals are unsuccessful or if they withdraw.”
The letter-writers continue: “We understand that ZRG needs to secure the land deal, at least in principle, as a precursor to them ramping up their work on the proposal, which will include the preparation of a full planning application and launching an attempt to alter or repeal the 1990 Crystal Palace Act of Parliament that restricts construction on the site.”
The residents express serious concern that, “… in practical terms ZRG and its international holding company in Hong Kong, through being private companies with no accountability to the UK public, may in effect be given carte blanche for the future treatment and development of the site”, and that “assurances by ZRG regarding the parts of the scheme that will remain for public amenity use cannot be guaranteed nor legally and robustly secured”.
The residents are asking for other concerned locals to sign the petition that accompanies their open letter. To read the letter in full, click here.
- How Inside Croydon broke the story: Chinese government has role in £500m Crystal Palace scheme
Coming to Croydon
- STDLCC Screening: The East, Jan 20
- South Croydon Heritage Trail meeting, Jan 20
- Holocaust Memorial concert, Jan 25
- STDLCC Screening: Winter Nomads, Jan 27
- Renaming ceremony for Lake Conan Doyle, Feb 1
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Feb 3
- Babylon at the Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 4-6
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 8 and 13
- Mark Steel at Ashcroft Theatre, Feb 12
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Mr Pooter comes to Croydon, Feb 20-22
- Stop the Incinerator fund-raiser, Feb 24
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Mar 3
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
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