The future of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, which was subject to an expensively drafted con-consultation run by CSM Strategic, a company of which the Lord of the Olympic Rings himself, Sebastian Coe, is the executive chairman, remains uncertain.
The report on the future of the 50-year-old complex of athletics stadium, stands, and indoor training areas, alongside the swimming and diving pools and sports hall in the listed 1960s edifice to concrete and glass, was commissioned last year by London’s Tory Mayor Boris Johnson.
The CSM proposals were basically to bulldoze the venerable old stadium and remove much of the regionally important training facilities, in part to clear the view from the top of park for a gaudy replica of the old Crystal Palace, in a Tory land-grab deal cooked up by Boris and a Chinese billionaire.
There was considerable embarrassment when Lord Coe’s involvement in the scheme was revealed by Inside Croydon, just a couple of years after the double Olympic gold medallist had led the London 2012 Games organisation which had promised a “sporting legacy” for the capital and the country. Lord Coe was at the time eyeing an election for President of his sport, the IAAF. Hasn’t that work out well?
Despite vocal opposition from residents, park users and sporting groups, CSM duly delivered its consultation report earlier this year. The Greater London Authority was due to produce a paper which drew together the various proposals in the autumn.
We’re now officially in meteorological winter, but there’s been no report from City Hall. Plans for a free school on the site of the NSC, another land-grab in the Grade II-listed public park, have also been quietly dropped, providing a further dent in the Tory Mayor’s plan to transfer public property into private hands.
But time is now pressing for the park and NSC’s future: the contract for the management of the large sports complex with Greenwich Leisure – GLL – expires at the end of March 2016.
Some “improvements” are still planned, it seems. But no clear evidence of what, why or who benefits (or not) from them has been publicised. Locals are getting twitchy: “Either Boris has got bored and dropped the ball, leaving it as a problem for the next Mayor, elected in May, to deal with,” said one supporter of the parks campaign.
“Or he’s casting around for some other big-business speculator prepared to throw millions at the top site, and a big reveal to help boost his Old Etonian mate Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to succeed him as Mayor.
“The latter seems less likely, but there is uncertainty, and the clock is ticking on the management deal with GLL and all the time important work to upgrade and improve the facilities in the NSC and the park are delayed.”
In August, the GLA’s Investment and Performance Board, or IPB, chaired by Boris’s favourite old duffer of a deputy mayor, Sir Eddie Lister, met, and it was reported on the NSC: “The project is rated amber as discussions with key stakeholders continue in an effort to establish clear requirements from local and national sporting bodies, as well as community and other organisations.”
By September’s meeting, the update stated: “The project is rated amber due to ongoing contract discussions with key stakeholders. A paper to IPB is expected in the autumn.” For many people in the northern hemisphere, September is regarded as the autumn.
In October, the IPB update stated: “The project is rated amber pending a satisfactory agreement with GLL in relation to a proposed contract extension, within acceptable financial parameters. Opportunities for a series of short-term operational and physical improvements are currently being investigated following input from a number of stakeholders.”
So more sticking plaster solutions to the NSC’s problem of long-term neglect and disinvestment? But at least it looks like GLL are going to get an extension on their management gig, without any unseemly tendering process or anything like that…
But then in November, the IPB commented on the NSC: “The project is rated amber as a contract extension has yet to be agreed with GLL for leisure management until 31 March 2018. Some interim physical and operational improvements to the National Sports Centre are planned following a public consultation.”
It’s just that no one’s telling the public, or the sports centre users, what those “interim physical and operational improvements” might be.
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