“I still want to rebuild the Crystal Palace,” Ni Zhaoxing, the billionaire owner of the ZhongRong Group, declared in Beijing earlier this week.
Ni, described as “a 62-year-old Anglophile”, was interviewed by the Financial Times during Prime Minister Theresa May’s trade visit to China.
Ni’s continued ambition to develop on a piece of public property comes at the same time that the Greater London Authority is consulting (again) over the future of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, and Bromley Council is considering its plans for the surrounding park.
Ni’s first flush of ambition to take over a chunk of south London floundered in 2015, when his company failed to complete the necessary paperwork on a £500million redevelopment scheme for the site of the old Crystal Palace, and a large section of the public park that surrounds it.
Only then did it emerge that Ni was demanding to take over half of the public park on a 500-year lease, and to be allowed to build anything that ZhongRong wanted, unanswerable to the local authority. Ni’s scheme had the backing of a Tory peer and a Conservative Party donor, and the public support of the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who had had officials at City Hall negotiating in secret for almost two years.
The New Statesman described the scheme/scam as a “boondongle” and called it Johnson’s “grandest, most pointless project yet”.
Sports groups hoping to lobby for a more settled future for the athletics stadium at the NSC were clearly unsettled today when they first heard of Ni’s renewed interest in Crystal Palace. Under his previous “vision”, the stadium and track would have been bulldozed to clear the sightlines for Ni’s gargantuan, over-sized recreation of the Crystal Palace, while a service road would be built through the public park.
The narrative provided during the Tory Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing is different to the realities of what occurred in 2014 and 2015, with the Chinese industrialist blaming slow-moving British bureaucracy for thwarting his attempts to take title to a people’s park.
According to the Pink ‘Un, “Mr Ni often thinks about the London development that has so far eluded him. ‘You need to realise your dream before you can have a new one,’ he says,” the paper reported this week.
Ni told the newspaper, “As soon as I saw the site I knew I wanted to build there . . . It is still my dream.”
Through his multi-national company ZhongRong, five years ago Ni claimed he would spend £500million to build on the site of the original Crystal Palace. That building had housed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in 1851, was moved, piece-by-piece, to south London, but in 1936 was destroyed by fire.
Of those plans, Ni told the FT: “I wanted to build the most magnificent building in the world there and the government welcomed its positive economic impacts.”
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