The major financial backer behind the ZhongRohn Group, which wants to build a £500million replica of the Victorian Crystal Palace as a hotel and entertainment complex on public open space at the top of Sydenham Hill, is the Chinese government.
And according to sources working on the development, Ni Zhaoxing, one of China’s richest men and the property magnate behind ZhongRong, is unusual among successful businessmen, because he is unconcerned about getting any profit from his half-billion expenditure on the project.
So a month after Croydon Council flogged off some of the most valuable items from the publicly owned Riesco Collection in Hong Kong, it seems that our neighbours in Bromley want to give away a chunk of Crystal Palace Park to attract hundreds of millions of pounds from China, too.
The latest background details to the scheme to recreate Joseph Paxton’s glazed pavilion emerged in a meeting held earlier this month and attended by, among others, Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North.
Also present was Jerome Frost, the lead project manager at Arup, the engineering group which worked on projects at the Beijing and London Olympics, and who are consultants to ZhongRong. It was Frost who volunteered the information, unprompted, about the involvement of the Chinese government and Ni’s non-commercial outlook to the 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, and 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.
The Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholder Group has already written to complain about a “drop-in” consultation event staged by Arup at the start of December, which was so poorly publicised that “only a small part of the community knew about it” – a classic developer’s ploy in paying lip-service to the requirement to “consult”.
CPPCSG’s Martin Tempia told Inside Croydon that the drop-in event was nevertheless attended by around 200 people, but that so few copies were available of a consultation questionnaire from Arup that it soon ran out.
Tempia is critical of some of the loaded questions being put forward in document. “The range of questions seemed unsuited to the larger issues at hand,” he said. “Why, when it has been publicly stated by the developer that the proposed development would not include a major retail component, were people being asked if they wanted it to include ‘Retail/shops’?”
It is a reasonable question. With the £1 billion Westfield and Hammerson mega-mall being planned for central Croydon just a few miles away, a £500million shopping venue at Crystal Palace – which is not known to have the best of transport links – could be a strategic planning shambles.
Tempia put a series of other points to Arup. “Why were people being asked if they considered it important that the building should be accessible to people with disabilities? This is a legal requirement, not an option.
“Given that the events seem to be planned for weekdays, ending relatively early in the evening for a commuter area, it considerably limits the chances for many people to participate,” Tempia said. He has also called for a properly organised online consultation
Another drop-in session is planned in late January, probably to be held in Anerley Town Hall, and another elsewhere in February. This will follow the announcement of the architectural short list.
“The CSG are concerned about the way in which the engagement process is developing. We believe that it is seriously under-resourced and that unless steps are taken to quickly address this, the lofty aspirations for the process expressed by the developer and their representatives will not be met,” Tempia said, highlighting that the Arup executive working on the matter is a three-day-a-week part-timer, “which we consider to be totally inadequate”.
Tempia said, “Given the opposition to the similar proposals in the past, it would seem clear that transparency and full engagement is required so that local people can really understand the risks and opportunities inherent in this proposal.
“Should this development take place, one of the major advantages for the area is that jobs and training opportunities are maximised. We want this fed into the proposals based on facts and analysis, not vague promises of benefit.”
Tempia said that his group believes that the scheme is already a “foregone conclusion”.
“We would remind the promoters of this proposal that it involves the purchase of publicly owned, historic Grade II listed, London parkland. The land is designated as Metropolitan Open Land and will require an Act of Parliament to enable any development. The quality of the community engagement process should not be downgraded simply because the funds are coming from a commercial organisation.
“We hope that both the Greater London Authority and London Borough of Bromley ensure that the community get the level of involvement they deserve and which was promised to them at the outset.”
- To contact the community stakeholder group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Community group rejects Crystal Palace plan as “a fantasy”
- Boris embraces £500m “beautiful idea” but is short on detail
Coming to Croydon
- STDLCC Screening: Now You See Me, Dec 27
- STDLCC Screening: Kolya, Dec 30
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Jan 16
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 8 and 13
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
- 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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It would be interesting to know precisely how many people object to the Chinese proposals at this stage and what exactly is bothering them.
I suspect its the old story of a small number of sad people making a lot of noise.
I look forward to seeing the detailed proposals for the development. Until then there is nothing at which even these disagreeable people can take umbrage.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask people if they would like retail use of any possible future development of the area, even though the current plans claim not to include this.
David Callam is right in that there is a very vocal minority who seem to feel the park is their property, whereas they are just dog-walking on derelict land. What if the Palace was still standing?.
As it is, most seem to have an open mind or are undecided, and would like more information. But the danger is that the proposals will be rushed through without a properly observed consultation process.
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