Coe wants community to have its say over Palace plans

Sebastian Coe, the double Olympic gold medal-winner and former chairman of the organising committee of London’s acclaimed 2012 Games, wants the local community to back calls to save the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre for future sporting use.

Friends say that Lord Coe want the community to have their say on Crystal Palace

Friends say that Lord Coe wants the local community to have their say on the future of Crystal Palace

Lord Coe, the former Conservative MP and now a Tory peer, is the executive chairman of CSM Strategic, the company hired by London Mayor Boris Johnson to conduct a consultation on the future of the NSC.

The four options for a £10million redevelopment put forward in the consultation all suggest the demolition of the athletics stadium in Crystal Palace Park, which for nearly 50 years was the home of British athletics; two consultation options offer to keep an athletics track, but nothing on offer would retain vital training facilities such as the indoor area. The plans also involve a possible primary level Free School on the site, despite opposition from Bromley Council.

Coe was unavailable to speak to Inside Croydon when we approached him for an interview on the controversial proposals because of his business interests.

But according to a source close to the one of the all-time greats of British track and field, “He would always come down on the side of sport. There is no way anyone who knows Seb well can genuinely believe that the man who has athletics running through his veins, who gets up every day to serve his sport would seriously choose to bulldoze a running track,” they said.

“But he also firmly believes that communities need to embrace their sports facilities otherwise they aren’t used and fall into disrepair.”

Lord Coe would never bulldoze a running track, according to sources close to him

Lord Coe would never bulldoze a running track, according to sources close to him

That caveat has been a regular refrain from some, mainly those advising the Mayor at City Hall and who seem to be backing another major development in Crystal Palace Park, the £500 million replica Palace on the park’s top site proposed by the Chinese ZhongRong Group.

For the proponents of this scheme, the 1960s-built athletics stadium at the bottom of the hill may be regarded as an unsightly inconvenience.

Senior coaches and athletics clubs, including Croydon Harriers and South London Harriers, maintain that at weekends and on club nights, there are regularly more than 100 young athletes using the track outdoors and dozens more working hard in the jumps and throws indoor training area. They point to two decades of disinvestment in the facilities, when reluctantly managed by Bromley Council, which has allowed what was once a cutting-edge facility to fall badly into disrepair.

The consultation period, initially for just a fortnight, was extended until November 16 after a public outcry and, Inside Croydon has learned, following direct intervention with the Greater London Authority by Dame Tessa Jowell, the MP for Dulwich, the Southwark constituency which neighbours Crystal Palace. Dame Tessa is also the former Labour Olympics Minister.

Last week, as exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, the Conservative leader of Bromley Council, Stephen Carr, hit out angrily at the manner in which the consultation had been handled by the Mayor, and called for the park’s twin development schemes to be considered together. Bromley also favours building a sports academy for secondary school-aged children on the outskirts of the park, which would make full use of the remaining sports facilities, including a track and the swimming pool and sports halls in the Grade II-listed NSC building alongside.

CSM Strategic reacted angrily, with threats of legal action, last week when Inside Croydon published details of the Mayor of London’s briefing to the company, to conduct a consultation to “revisit the masterplan to test which elements should be reconsidered in light of the changed circumstances”. Namely the ZhongRong scheme.

Former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell intervened to get the consultation period for Crystal Palace NSC extended

Former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell intervened to get the consultation period for Crystal Palace NSC extended

Crystal Palace had been earmarked as a regional centre of excellence for athletics as part of what Coe described as the sporting legacy of the 2102 Olympics.

Privately, Coe has been telling friends that he has concerns that neither the sport’s national governing body, UK Athletics, nor the funding agency UK Sport, wants to promote Crystal Palace as an elite competition or training facility. “If its future lies as a community facility, so the community should have a say in its structure and usage,” the source said.

Coe is the chairman of the British Olympic Association, but the BOA leaves the organisation of the country’s various Olympic sports to their governing bodies. UKA is focusing its future international promotions on staging events at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, including staging the world championships in 2017. Next year, UKA is expected to nominate Coe as their candidate to become the President of the IAAF, the world governing body of athletics.

On Crystal Palace, our source said, “Seb would love a strong lobby for this facility from the sporting bodies.”

They described UK Athletics’ silence on the future of Crystal Palace, even as a training venue, as “more sinister”.

“If they are being silent it can only mean they do not support, because supporting it would tick all the right boxes for Seb, for their own sport and for sport in general.

“So it is even stranger that they are being silent. If they would support and promote facilities for elite champs and training then that may make a difference to what happens. They must have been asked for their view and it will become public in time.

“I know Seb hopes the local community chooses to retain the track for local athletics clubs and schools to use, as it is steeped in his and his sport’s history. But it is not his decision to make nor the decision of CSM Strategic.

“It is the decision of the local community – local residents and local businesses. And that decision is best reached with rigorous and robust debate and challenge, which is what the current consultation should be doing. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed on this and hope the ‘pro crystal palace campaign’ is effectively engaging the local community and helping them realise the importance of their voices in this decision.”


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1 Response to Coe wants community to have its say over Palace plans

  1. Peter Rogers says:

    I’m sure £2 million isn’t a huge amount for Lord Coe so perhaps he should have the courage of his convictions and come out in support of the sport which has already given him a life beyond comfortable. No one ever really believed all of that Olympic Legacy propaganda but please don’t shove our naivety in our faces

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