£500m Palace developers admit: we don’t know what it’ll do

The on-going transfer of billions of pounds’ worth of public assets – in the form of academised schools, privatised libraries, given away building land – to private profiteers is a sadly familiar theme.

The landmark TV tower at the top of Crystal Palace Park: what will the Chinese developers do with the site on the terracing alongside the tower?

The landmark TV tower at the top of Crystal Palace Park: what will the Chinese developers do with the site on the terracing alongside the tower?

Yet the shady deal done by London Mayor Boris Johnson with billionaire Ni Zhaoxing, the property magnate behind ZhongRong, to hand over an ill-defined slab of Crystal Palace Park is more extraordinary than many others.

Because it has now emerged that ZhongRong, backed by the Chinese government, and planning to spend £500million to develop the site atop Sydenham Hill, don’t actually know what they want to do with any new building.

London Assembly Member Valerie Shawcross has been very critical of those working on the scheme, describing the handling of preliminary consultations as a “fiasco”.

But Arup, the architecture firm handling the preliminary work on the scheme, have at least had the decency to respond to a lengthy list of detailed questions from the Labour AM, and some of their answers are very revealing. Not least the fact that they don’t have a Scooby-doo about what purpose the new building will serve or what sort of business it will undertake.

“What will the new building be used for?” Shawcross asked, quite straightforwardly. After all, if you decide to spend the thick-end of a billion quid in a south London suburb, you might have some grain of an idea of how you intend to recover your investment.

Shawcross’s question continued: “We have heard that there may be a hotel, conference centre, exhibition space. What else will be included in the building? What size and capacity will these components each have?”

Arup’s answer? It can be summed up thus: “We dunno.”

Arup told Shawcross: “The exact mix of uses, their size and capacity is still being defined and developed.”

Or: “We dunno.”

Arup continues: “Approximately half of the Palace will comprise a new public visitor attraction; this might include an art gallery, museum, exhibition space, a viewing platform or another type visitor attraction.”

Note the use of the word “might”. So it is equally possible that it might not. “Visitor attraction”? Some might suggest that a properly funded and maintained historic park is a visitor attraction.

Val Shawcross: keeping Arup accountable

Val Shawcross: keeping Arup accountable

But Arup’s answer went on: “As part of the initial consultation we have sought the views of the local community on what this element of the proposal might comprise. Additionally the Palace will contain a mixture of other uses including boutiques, conferencing facilities and a hotel. The Palace will not include housing, a casino or a shopping centre.”

So at least we know what the Chinese Palace will not include.

The rest of Arup’s answers are detailed and of some interest. But are we any the wiser about what purpose this £500 million-worth of “investment”, being allowed by Tory Mayor Boris Johnson to build over public open space, will serve?

Not really.


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1 Response to £500m Palace developers admit: we don’t know what it’ll do

  1. davidcallam says:

    What to build? May I suggest a shard-like structure, a modern interpretation of the Crystal Palace. And to fill it? How about a hotel and conference centre, and an Olympic standard swimming pool and indoor sports facilities to replace the hideous carbunkle that is currently such an architectural blot on the park landscape.

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