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.
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.
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?
- Shawcross is one of the speakers at the public meeting in Crystal Palace taking place next Wednesday
- Read the rest of her questions and Arup’s answers by clicking here
Coming to Croydon
- Stop The Incinerator Beer and Bingo fund-raiser, Apr 28
- Future of Crystal Palace debate, Apr 30
- Groundwork River Wandle project workshop, Apr 30
- David Lean Cinema: The Railway Man, May 1
- Groundwork River Wandle project workshop, May 1
- Hauntology – the architecture of Croydon, Apr 5-May 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, May 4
- Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce Question Time, May 7
- David Lean Cinema: Wadja, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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