Has London Mayor Boris Johnson given up all hope on his “Chinese giveaway” of a chunk of Crystal Palace Park for the building of a replica of Paxton’s giant Victorian greenhouse?
It certainly sounded that way during Mayor’s Question Time yesterday, when the next leader of the Conservative Party admitted, “You’re not always going to pull it off.”
From the steps of the Italian terracing which has stood derelict since the original Crystal Palace burned down nearly 80 years ago, Johnson, together with Ni Zhaoxing, one of China’s richest businessmen, announced the £500 million replica Palace scheme in October 2013. Since when, there has been little real progress, but much speculation about the purpose of the building, how it would be funded and by whom, and the identity of the Tory Party donors who were “sponsors” of the scheme.
ZhongRong has an exclusivity agreement to develop the “top site”, where the original Palace once stood, with Bromley Council, who manage the Grade II-listed park. But that agreement expires in February, and some have drawn the conclusion that the practicalities of the project have overcome even the flamboyant enthusiasm of the London Mayor.
“There are some concerns about the deliverability of the project,” Boris Johnson admitted at City Hall yesterday.
Green Party Assembly Member Darren Johnson (no relation), put it to the Mayor that the Crystal Palace scheme, together with another Chinese-backed project in the Royal Albert Docks, was “… just another Boris Johnson vanity project as you come to the end of your second term”.
Since being selected as the candidate for a safe Tory seat in west London to secure his return to Westminster politics next May, Boris Johnson’s part-time approach to being Mayor has become noticeably even more half-cock and half-arsed, if that were possible. Looking more dishevelled than usual – he has just spent five days in the United States promoting his hagiography of Churchill – with a shrug, Johnson appeared to suggest that the £1.5 billion-worth of Chinese developments in the capital that he had supported so strongly might not actually materialise.
You can watch the video of this part of Mayor’s Question Time here:
Crystal Palace Park had previously been a London-wide responsibility under the old Greater London Council. But when Thatcher closed down the GLC, management of the park was given to Tory-run Bromley, which was clearly reluctant to make any serious investment. Only in the past two years has the park reverted to London-wide stewardship from City Hall.
“Crystal Palace Park is an expensive thing to maintain,” the London Mayor said yesterday, failing to acknowledge that the uncertainty created by the ZhongRong project had already jeopardised extensive funding from other sources, including the Lottery, to improve parts of the park.
And yet nothing may come of the ZhongRong scheme. Back in June, Croydon councillor Andrew Pelling noted in Inside Croydon that despite the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, being in Britain on a high-profile trade visit, no activity was arranged around the prestigious south London scheme. “This suggests to me that the deal is going nowhere,” Pelling wrote then.
Yesterday, Mayor Johnson seemed to excuse the “initiative” of trying to give away another large chunk of public property to his developer mates (qv Cane Hill at Coulsdon) by saying, “I’ll accept all criticisms. What I won’t accept is the criticism that we’re doing the wrong thing by stimulating economic activity in areas of London that have been stalled for a very long time.
“In both cases,” Johnson said, “Crystal Palace and Royal Albert Dock, it was right for the GLA to seize the initiative and try to get things moving.
“You’re not always going to pull it off. I happen to think that in the Royal Docks we will pull it off. I think in Crystal Palace, it’s much more difficult. But you’ve got to try.”
[Spoiler Alert]: In the seminal 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson’s character’s final words to the inmates in the asylum are, “I tried, didn’t I? Goddammit, at least I did that.” He ends the film having been lobotomised, while his friend escapes via a second-storey window.
Is that to be Boris’s next move at City Hall, too?
- C4 News: London Assembly to investigate Boris’s £1bn property deal
- Greens take a stand against Chinese takeaway of public park
- Assembly Member calls Chinese Palace plans a “fiasco”
Coming to Croydon
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- St Andrew’s churchyard gardening session, 10am, Dec 6
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Croydon Philharmonic Handel’s Messiah, Fairfield Halls, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- Mayor of Croydon’s charity Christmas dinner, Dec 12
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- Concert of Christmas music, St Luke’s, Woodside, Dec 13
- Friends of the Earth Green Beanfeast, Dec 15 (book by Dec 1)
- Croydon Philharmonic Christmas concert, St Matthew’s, Dec 16
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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