Boris aides ‘stunned’ by response to Palace consultation

Boris Johnson’s Greater London Authority was “stunned” by the depth and hostility of the response, from the public, sports bodies and from Bromley Council, to its consultation conducted last autumn on the future of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace.

Lord Olympics: Coe's CSM company is proposing the demolition of Crystal Palace stadium

Lord Olympics: Seb Coe’s CSM company ran consultation on demolition of NSC stadium

According to sources at a meeting of the Crystal Palace Park Executive Board this week, the wholesale rejection of the options offered under the Conservative Mayor’s consultation – which proposed the demolition of the athletics stadium, to be replaced by a free school in the middle of the public park – may yet cause a complete re-think. The report from the consultation was due to be published “early” in 2015. The possibility that the Chinese developers, the ZhongRong Group, may not pursue their £500 million replica Crystal Palace project elsewhere in Crystal Palace Park could also force a new look at the future for the NSC.

As was first reported by Inside Croydon, the consultation on the National Sports Centre was run on behalf of the GLA by a consultancy which has as its executive chairman Sebastian Coe, the Tory peer and former head of the London Olympic organising committee, now the chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Of the four proposals offered under the consultation, all saw the demolition of the athletics stadium, which for half a century had been the home of British athletics, staging numerous world records, including one set by Coe himself. The stadium also served as the home of London’s rugby league and American football franchises, modern pentathlon world championships, and even hosted a visit from Pope John Paul II.

It was shortly after this artist's impression of the new-look Crystal Palace Park was drawn that ZhongRong decided they wanted rid of the athletics stadium. Possibly

It was shortly after this artist’s impression of the new-look Crystal Palace Park was drawn that ZhongRong decided they wanted rid of the athletics stadium at the bottom of the hill. Possibly

Although superseded as a venue for international athletics by the Olympic Stadium itself, before the 2012 Games, athletics’ national governing body had earmarked Crystal Palace as a regional centre of excellence as part of London’s Olympic legacy. That sporting legacy appeared to have been ignored in the consultation run by Coe’s company, which only retained the running track in two of the four options offered.

The meeting this week of the Crystal Palace Park Executive Board was told that Richard “Dick” Blakeway, one of Boris Johnson’s deputy mayors, has conceded that the GLA “mishandled” the National Sports Centre project brief and consultation.

“Dick” Blakeway is Johnson’s deputy responsible for housing, land and property, and he had been intrinsically involved in discussions for the ZhongRong Group’s scheme to build a vast replica Palace on the park’s “top site”. It was Blakeway who emailed ZRG representatives last October confirming that the NSC consultation was “complementary” to the Chinese plans.

Deputy Mayor Richard Blakeway: "stunned" by public reaction to Crystal Palace sports centre proposals

Deputy Mayor Richard Blakeway: “stunned” by public reaction to Crystal Palace sports centre proposals

According to a source at the meeting, “Blakeway and the GLA have been stunned by the response from the sporting community, particularly the belated and uncharacteristically vigorous response from the national sports associations, who had previously given the GLA the impression that they didn’t give a toss about the NSC.

“Some of them were apparently very threatening both to the GLA, and Seb Coe.”

As chairman of the BOA, Coe’s owes his position on the National Olympic Committee to the governing bodies of the sports. The Crystal Palace proposals were particularly embarrassing to Lord Coe, who this year is seeking election as the President of the IAAF, the world governing body for track and field.

Further details have also emerged of the ultimatum issued to ZhongRong Group if they wish to continue their interest in building the 2 million square metre edifice.

Bromley Council estimates it has spent £100,000 of public money on legal services since the ZRG scheme was first announced in October 2013. Now Bromley wants the Chinese industrialists to front-up a £5 million non-refundable deposit as a condition of restoring the exclusivity agreement with the local authority.

Part of ZRG’s failure to progress the discussions for their scheme has been an apparent breakdown with the London-based firm of solicitors who were the Chinese developers’ legal representatives. Bromley is demanding to be informed of the appointment of alternative solicitors.

With suggestions that there are other developers considering options for the brownfield site alongside Crystal Palace Parade, just within the Grade II-listed park, Bromley Council has given ZRG until February 20 to meet a set of conditions to be given exclusive status, which they had enjoyed until February 1.

Bromley are now insisting that, as well as the £5 million deposit, before the end of May, ZhongRong must provide a business plan, full details of the size and content of the development, a viability assessment, and a string of other guarantees.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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