Critic of London’s high-rise blocks heads Palace debate

Peter Wynne Rees, the former chief planner for the City of London who recently criticised planning policy across the capital for allowing too many high-rise blocks that were being marketed by developers to wealthy absentee landlords in the Far East and Russia, is to be one of the expert panellists at a debate on the future of Crystal Palace and its park.

"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 last year'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 last year’s announcement

Wynne Rees said that high-rise blocks being developed in London are being aimed at sales to “dirty Russian money” and “Chinese gamblers”.

In Croydon, one residential block nearing completion has been marketed exclusively in Hong Kong, with potential “investors” assured by the developers that none of the apartments will be occupied by local authority tenants or those on social security.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has responded to such concerns by calling for the capital’s boroughs to levy punitive levels of Council Tax on properties which are left vacant in the midst of the city’s housing crisis.

But London’s Tory Mayor has meanwhile granted Chinese developers ZhongRong free-rein to build on a chunk of Crystal Palace Park, although the detail of the £500 million scheme for a “new Crystal Palace” remain unclear more than a year since the London Mayor announced he was handing over this valuable piece of public property

It is the controversy over the scheme to build on the park which prompted the formation of The Information Project, and the staging of a series of debates, the third of which is called “Heritage and Legacy” and is being held on Wednesday, June 25 at the Salvation Army on Westow Street, Upper Norwood, from 7.30pm.

Crystal Palace drawingWynne Rees, now the professor of Places and City Planning at University College London, is joined on the panel by Dr John Bold, a former head of architecture for the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and Leo Hollis, a historian.

The organisers say that in this session, there will be a comparison of historical trends that shaped the original Crystal Palace and its park, with emergent trends in urban space. On the agenda will be how the “legacy” of the London Olympics has passed-by Crystal Palace and its National Sports Centre, which has lost its elite sporting venue status and has therefore become the city’s biggest loser from the Games, with the surrounding area being affected accordingly.

“Is private development the only way to germinate community? Are there policy mechanisms or other means to avoid removing a public amenity from the public purse?”, are also among the questions the organisers expect to be raised on the night.

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