Boris embraces £500m “beautiful idea” but is short on detail

How Chinese developers want to spend £500m to re-build a replica of the Crystal Palace and redevelop the neighbouring park

How Chinese developers want to spend £500m to re-build a replica of the Crystal Palace and redevelop the neighbouring park

A community group that has been working with Bromley and the Greater London Authority for years towards an agreed redevelopment of Crystal Palace Park says that the £500 million plan announced by a Chinese businessman to recreate Joseph Paxton‘s Victorian glass and steel structure above the park and sports centre, so fondly embraced this week by London Mayor Boris Johnson, were only made known to them just a few weeks ago.

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.

But now the Chinese developers’ replica plans have been backed by Boris Johnson, though without any real discussion with residents or the local borough.

Of the two years of consultation with the local authorities, Martin Tempia, the chairman of the Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholder Group, or CSG, said: “We believed this work had resulted in an emerging consensus on how the park can be regenerated sustainably and its future secured.”

Will he deliver? Boris Johnson's election promise to deliver a tram link to Crystal Palace has so far come to nothing

Will he deliver? Boris Johnson’s election promise to deliver a tram link to Crystal Palace has so far come to nothing

A Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People grant of £7.5 million has already been awarded, and work on one aspect of this plan is due to begin shortly.

“We only became aware of the proposed redevelopment of the top site by ZhongRong Group and its consultant Arup some two months ago.

“With the principle of the regeneration of the park at the heart of its work, the CSG must listen to any park scheme which has the prospect of improving the park for local users. The sums talked about by ZhongRong Group are considerable but there is still little detail and information on the appearance, function and environmental effects of the proposed new development,” Tempia said.

“The developer will have to provide assurances as to the quality of design, economic viability and more importantly the environmental and social sustainability of any new development on the top site of this historic Grade II* listed park which is designated as Metropolitan Open Land. There are also major concerns about the wider consequences this development will have for local businesses and surrounding communities.

“Any large scale project accompanied by the loss of significant amounts of parkland must have the support of local people. We do not want to see, as happened in the past, years more of legal battles which will only serve to delay much needed regeneration and improvements to the park and create further uncertainty for its future.”

"Do what you like. We'll take your cash, and we won't tell the locals", is what someone might have said when Boris Johnson and  Chinese developer Ni Zhao met at this week's announcement

“Do what you like. We’ll take your cash, and we won’t tell the locals”, is what someone might have said when Boris Johnson and Chinese developer Ni Zhao met at this week’s announcement

Ni Zhaoxing, one of China’s richest men, is the property developer behind the ZhongRong Group.

This week, he said that he wants to build the 1,800-feet-long and 180-foot high building, which will act as concert and exhibition venue as well as potentially housing a hotel and convention centre.

What he calls the “jewel in the crown for Britain and the world” would employ 2,000 people. Ni’s scheme would also involve work on the park, providing renewed Italianate terracing and a central tree-lined avenue.

“The Crystal Palace must be an art work and an attraction of itself. I want to restore it to its former glory,” Ni said. “There is nothing bad about this – I want to bring artwork from around the world to be valued here and bring many artists, collectors, entrepreneurs and high-end visitors.”

Standing beside Ni for the announcement, Johnson said he thought the scheme was “a beautiful idea”.

“This isn’t an act of nostalgia,” the Mayor of London said. “It is looking forward and it is about adorning our city with a world-class structure.” And with that, the Old Etonian grabbed his cloak, doffed his top hat and got on board his horse-drawn hansom cab and headed off back to the old smoke…

A planning application is expected to be submitted next year, with work to begin in 2015.

But John Payne, the chairman of the Crystal Palace Community Association, said: “We still have no real idea what is being proposed here. This building could morph into anything. We would very much expect there to be meaningful consultation.”

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5 Responses to Boris embraces £500m “beautiful idea” but is short on detail

  1. davidcallam says:

    Fantastic site for a convention and exhibition centre. Some of us have been saying so for decades, but developers have always been driven away by the nimby attitudes of a small number of vociferous individuals. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and embrace the economic advantages of this initiative. Or should we leave this gently fading, down-at-heel open space to the mercies of a selfish bunch of dog-walkers?

    • You do have a point, David.

      However, it is telling that one of the major reasons that the site of the National Sports Centre has been often rejected by Lottery-backed sports organisations for redevelopment of facilities is the poor transport links to Crystal Palace Park. The rail line into London has never been properly utilised, and anyone who has been stuck in the stadium car park, waiting to exit on to Anerley Hill will realise that using cars for major events there is not the answer.

      The Chinese draft plan seems to erase all car parking from the park, in any case. An oversight? Or some aspect of local transport policy?

      So what’s the point of developing a wonderful new attraction, even if it does not encroach on to the public parkland, if visitors cannot readily get to and from it?

      Of course, if Boris actually did his job as the Mayor of London properly, he would be on top of this sort of detail, and would have his transport department at City Hall working at developing a proper transport plan for the scheme – including the twice promised tram extension to Croydon – and ensuring that the Chinese developers pay for a large proportion of the cost.

      But it seems, just as with Hammersfield, traffic is dealt with as an afterthought, with the local residents left to cope with the prospect of living with the congestion and environmental impact.

      • The Chinese plan proposes 3000 parking spaces under the new building. Perhaps some of that would be allocated for users of the NSC; or given the major landscaping works they propose around the NSC it would gain underground parking elsewhere on the site.

        The Masterplan did similar, one version spoke of retaining a car park downhill of the NSC where the radio controlled car track currently is. Hard to argue that the current parking arrangements are anything other than a sprawling mess.. three-quarters-empty most of the time, but unable to cope when there’s a special event.

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