City Hall keeps National Sports Centre on amber for months

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.

There has been sphinx-like silence over the future of the National Sports Centre and the wider Crystal Palace Park from Boris Johnson since the collapse of two Tory land-grab schemes

There has been sphinx-like silence over the future of the National Sports Centre and the wider Crystal Palace Park from Boris Johnson since the collapse of two Tory land-grab schemes

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.

The GLA has had its plans for the NSC on amber for months now

The GLA has had its plans for the NSC on amber for months now

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.”

Belatedly, UK Athletics has decided that it wants to keep Crystal Palace

The future of the former national athletics stadium has been on “amber” for months

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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3 Responses to City Hall keeps National Sports Centre on amber for months

  1. whitgiftavenue says:

    This is so sad. Here we have a facility which is popular and well used by young athletes from South London, Essex, Sussex and Surrey. There has been no ‘Olympic Legacy’ which benefits them, certainly not the inaccessible white elephant that is the Lea Valley. Instead they rely on a crumbling 1960’s facility offering coaching and support which is second to none. A facility which has been ignored and betrayed by the blazered bufoons who run our national sports organisations and the third rate Machievels at the GLA.

    We need to reconfigure and then establish Crystal Palace as a regional centre of excellence. We also need to remind the GLA of their responsibilities to the people they serve.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I would like to see a survey of all users of the Crystal Palace facilities to find where they travel from to get there, and ascertain if the location is central or them, how easy it is for them to get there, how long it takes, and HOW they get there.

    Likewise, do the same survey for users of the Lee Valley and Olympic Park.

    This would reveal the pattern of use.

    Maybe, London needs 6 centres, one in SW London- in Merton perhaps, and one for SE London, one for S London, one for W London, N London and E London. A running track, a basketball centre, in each area.

    Southwark Council are just refurbishing the Southwark Park Athletics track and facilities. Maybe other Boroughs have done the same. Maybe we don’t need Crystal Palace any more. .

    My own view is that the NSCC stadium is a beautiful asset o the park, as is the Pool, but the surrounding buildings and catwalks are just ugly lumps of buildings which do nothing for the park.

    I myself would like to see the athletics stadium saved, and the pool saved. I would then like to see the surrounding areas ripped out, and remodelled with an outdoor swimming centre and maybe even a smaller, modern version of Kew Gardens–it would all blend in with the rest of the park,

    Rock Concerts could be held in the new centre– why not in the stadium. ? it’s all a question of having a vision, and then creating something that South Londoners of all classes (yes, that’s the way we still are) really need and will use. The hideous Sahara of the car parks could be kept and improved simply and cheaply by planting with rows of trees.
    Those who want to rebuild the Crystal Palace have a point, but I wish that we could have a truly modern, smaller version, and fantastic hilltop gardens all round it. This sunny hilltop would be wasted if buried under hotels, or by re-covering it with a copy of the Crystal palace we had there until it burnt down, We don’t need another one of those depressing Leisure parks where the users drive in to go to an indoor poker centre, a burgerama or a multiplex cinema.
    This is a unique hill, with a unique landscape and history. We need a new Paxman to come in an dgive us the vision. And then get the national Lottery to fund it. How many tickets are bought each week in S London?. Millions.

    • The usage surveys and studies were done for Crystal Palace before 2012, when the sports councils and the athletics governing body determined that, post-Olympics, the NSC should take on the strategic role as a legacy regional centre.

      Then CSM conducted some research, to justify its con-consultation, earlier this year.

      The sports hall and pool gets a free pass from any bulldozings because the building has been listed. And there remains great need for Olympic-sized pools for training and development: the cities of Nairobi and Warsaw both have more Olympic-sized pools than the whole of the UK.

      The issue with athletics facilities at Crystal Palace is less about the track, or the stadium – since the Palace was built, most boroughs have their own tracks. But there is a paucity of indoor facilities for winter training for pole vaulting, sprinting, high jump, shot and long jump. The Palace also has on-site accommodation for weekend training camps, gyms and other facilities not available at municipal tracks.

      The need for its facilities and the services it offers as a regional athletics centre for the south of the Thames is well-established. It is now long overdue for its owners, the sport and Lottery to find the funds to restore the venue and deliver on that for future generations.

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