Some of London’s leading athletes and coaches have reacted with dismay and horror at plans, revealed this week, to demolish the athletics stadium and indoor training facilities at Crystal Palace.
And there is mounting anger among some senior athletics figures that the company behind the proposals, CSM Strategic, is headed by Sebastian Coe, the former chairman of the London Olympic organising committee.
One coach to some of the country’s elite athletes described Coe’s part in the stadium demolition proposals as “hypocrisy on a world-class scale”.
A consultation process began this week, with an exhibition of the proposals on display in the sports centre building. But with the Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Greater London Authority likely to decide on the stadium’s future next year, the brief consultation period is passing by almost unnoticed by many involved in British athletics.
Christine Ohuruogu, the 400 metres world champion whose family home is within sight of the Olympic Park at Stratford, was in south London this week for a schools sports participation event. She admitted to not knowing of any plans to demolish a stadium in which she had enjoyed some of the biggest victories of her career.
She is not alone. Staff at the sports centre and working in Sport England’s offices in the seemingly doomed Jubilee Stand were also unaware of the existence of any demolition plans.
Martyn Rooney, Croydon Harriers’ European 400m champion, told Inside Croydon that it is important to keep a track and an indoor training facility at Crystal Palace. “I love it as a stadium,” Rooney said. “It will be sad to see the stadium go. I have some terrific memories of the place.”
With the Olympic Stadium at Stratford soon available for international meetings, Rooney is realistic about the prospects for Crystal Palace staging major events. “But they need to keep a track there for community and local clubs’ use, and an indoor training facility is really important,” said Rooney, who grew up in Thornton Heath and did much of his training at the Palace. “As a kid, I would just put on extra layers and go out and train through the winter.
“But now I’m a prima donna, I need to have an indoor training centre. I’m based in Loughborough now, where there’s plenty of facilities for us to train all year-round, but last Christmas, when I, James Ellington and a couple of others from south London came home, we couldn’t train at the Palace because the indoor centre was flooded. The place has been badly neglected.
“They’ve got to think of what’s the best use of the place now. It is massively useful to have a track there.”
The four outline schemes being proposed all require the demolition of the spectator stands around the track, clearing the line-of-sight from the £500 million replica Crystal Palace which China’s ZhongRong Group is proposing to build at the top of the hill overlooking the park.
Local campaigners fear that with the replica Palace proposal and the schemes suggested for the stadium site, as much as one-third of Crystal Palace Park public land could be given over to various private interests.
One of the lead figures named on a Memorandum of Understanding between Bromley Council – supposedly custodians of the public park – and the ZhongRong Group, is Lady Xuelin Bates. British-based Lady Bates is named in the MOU as a “sponsor” on behalf of ZhongRong Group.
Lady Bates is married to a former Tory MP, Michael Bates, and is a significant donor to the Conservative Party, attending fund-raising dinners with Prime Minister David Cameron. She is also well-known to Lord Coe.
When he was managing the London Olympics’ £9 billion budget, Coe regularly emphasised the “sporting legacy” that the Games could provide. Now, though, there’s growing fears that what Coe’s own company is proposing for the Crystal Palace stadium – apparently at the behest of the ZhongRong Group – could fatefully damage their athletics club.
“If the track is closed down completely we will lose a whole section of our club overnight because there is nowhere to go,” said Mick Mein, the president of South London Harriers, one of Britain’s oldest athletics clubs.
Following three decades of neglect and disinvestment in the facilities at Crystal Palace, first under Bromley and more recently under the London Mayor, one of the reasons given by Coe’s company for bringing in the bulldozers is that the venue is now underused. As well as being a self-fulfilling argument, according to John Powell, who coaches at the centre most days of the week, it is also untrue.
Crystal Palace continues to provide facilities for athletes of all abilities from Kent, Surrey, Sussex and south London, who usually train there in the evening, while the track is also used by local schools during the daytime.
Powell says that this week alone, there were more than 100 athletes of various standards out on the track on Tuesday night, and a similar number using the indoor sprints, throws and jumps area.
“I have always had the utmost respect for Lord Coe as an athlete and since as an ambassador for our sport,” said former police officer Powell, who was recently awarded the MBE for his services to coaching.
“But this casts the darkest shadow possible over one of Britain’s sporting greats. If he has had anything to do with the building of these plans to demolish Crystal Palace, in the wake of ‘Olympic legacy’ it would surely be hypocrisy on a world-class scale.”
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- London Assembly Member calls Chinese Palace plans a “fiasco”
Coming to Croydon
- 21st annual Croydon and Sutton Beer Festival, Oct 16-18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- Purley War Memorial Hospital health fair, Oct 18
- Maya Angelou tribute concert, Fairfield Halls, Oct 18
- Wandle Park wildflower meadow project, Oct 19
- St John’s, Shirley, charity concert, Oct 19
- South London Jobs Fair, Fairfield Halls, Oct 21
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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