The future of the athletics stadium at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre is under threat once again, as the Mayor of London is staging the latest round of “consultations” on the badly neglected, once internationally renowned facility.
Campaigners have voiced fears that plans have already been set to close down large parts of the sports centre from March 2020.
Sports groups who ran campaigns to stop the bulldozing of the stadium under plans hatched up by previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, say that they are “immensely worried” by the details of the consultation announced so far, and over the way in which the public engagement has been poorly publicised, with events “sneaked out” over the August bank holiday weekend.
They accuse City Hall of already having a set agenda for the outcome.
“At the very least, it questions the sincerity of this latest campaign,” according to the chairman of the Crystal Palace Sports Partnership.
The Sports Partnership is an umbrella group of coaches and centre users from a range of sports and interests, including athletics, swimming and diving, gymnastics and trampolining, basketball, football and hockey.
They have discovered that the sports centre’s management company is not taking any bookings for events after March 2020 – which they fear may be a date fixed for closure of some of the facilities, perhaps even to demolish some parts of the sports centre.
Unlike the flawed and failed Johnson consultation four years ago, which was cobbled together by his Tory mate, “Lord” Sebastian Coe, in the interests of a Chinese billionaire who fancied a bit of London real estate on the cheap, this latest round of engagement at least has the appearance of being conducted by some well-regarded firms of architects and civil engineers.
They include Hawkins\Brown (yes, the slash is the wrong way round; they’re architects, dontchaknow), planning experts Turley and Croydon-based engineers Mott McDonald.
The review promises to look at all aspects of the National Sports Centre site, including its overall uses, facilities, a detailed review of school and educational use, event functions, and what range of sporting and other complementary uses will form part of its future.
But inevitably, they are entering into the public consultation with some already fixed notions about the future of the 1960s-built sports centre in the middle of Crystal Palace Park, which includes the Grade II*-listed sports hall and pool building as well as the 17,000-seat capacity stadium.
The sports centre consultation is being carried out in parallel to an exercise on the future of Crystal Palace Park that is being run by the local authority, Bromley Council.
The Greater London Authority revealed earlier this summer that it expects the sporting footprint of the centre is likely to be reduced. Given the listed status of the Sir Leslie Martin-designed concrete-and-glass sports hall, this leaves only one real option, the downgrading or complete demolition of the stadium – despite it having been included in “Olympic legacy” plans ahead of London 2012 as an important regional training and competition venue for south London and south-east England.
GLA officials’ minds appear already made up, as they have said that the scale of the stadium is “not widely supported” to be retained as it is.
The purpose and scale of the facilities, meanwhile, continue to be undermined, both by sports governing bodies and the GLA, which manages the facilities through Greenwich Leisure.
British Athletics effectively turned its back on Crystal Palace as a national or international standard competition venue a decade ago, in favour of smaller and less-well-attended stadiums in Manchester, Birmingham, and also the Olympic Stadium in east London.
The GLA’s position about the centre not being “widely supported” is largely self-fulfilling: while facilities, such as the Copper Box in the Olympic Park, are open to the public until 10pm at weekends, at Crystal Palace, Greenwich Leisure’s contract allows them to shut up the venue at 5pm.
The Mayor’s office is also known to want to provide new buildings – within the park – for Capel Manor College, using a site not previously included in the local masterplan, and which had been earmarked for any extension of the tram network to Crystal Palace. That major infrastructure scheme was proposed under the previous Labour Mayor, Ken Livingstone, but was dropped by Johnson and now apparently is conveniently forgotten by Sadiq Khan.
Some elements of the sports centre scheme were previously aired during the Johnson/Coe consultation; given that many of the senior staff at the GLA remain unchanged since then, it should come as no surprise that they might be revisiting previous attempts to demolish the sports centre and build on public parkland.
As one concerned local resident told Inside Croydon today, “It seems clear if people don’t push for keeping a proper sports centre, the Mayor would quite clearly save money and knock most of it down and severely downgrade the site.
“There is deep suspicion with the Mayor’s office and GLA, as they seem disinterested in the park and are going behind everyone’s backs with the plans to build Capel Manor on a site not previously earmarked for building and not part of the reworked masterplan.
“The Mayor is also insisting the housing for the park contain affordable housing which will further stifle any park regeneration, as the whole point of the controversial housing deal was that all money raised would be used to improve the park.”
And today, campaign group the Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, which was formed when the centre previously came under threat, appealed to local residents and the sporting community to make their voices heard on the future of the centre.
“It’s vital everyone actively participates in attending the workshops, focus groups, and fill in the survey in this latest NSC consultation,” said John Powell, a leading athletics coach based at Crystal Palace and the chair of CPSP.
“We welcome the ‘On your Marks’ initiative by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as it is formulating the process to plan the long-term strategy for Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
“What worries me immensely though is the absence of appropriate advanced marketing material. With barely a week to the first consultation event, no posters were on display anywhere in, or outside, the centre to advertise this process and the workshops.
“That will do nothing to reduce the cynicism among some that this is all little more than lip service, with an agenda already set. At the very least it questions the sincerity of this latest campaign.”
Powell and his campaign colleagues are also concerned that a report by another bunch of consultants, NAA, has been kept secret by the Mayor’s office. While the report was promised to be published in March this year, so far nothing has been made public. CPSP made submissions to the consultants, including a petition with 15,000 signatures.
“That early events of this new process have been scheduled for summer bank holiday week frankly beggars belief, with all the schools still off and a huge number of people still away,” said Powell, clearly unimpressed.
The consultation offers “Pop-up” events (August 24-25); “Workshop” events (August 29-30 and September 4-5) for coaches or sports clubs; and “Focus groups” due in October.
Previous coverage of the future of Crystal Palace NSC:
- Assembly Member calls Chinese Palace plans a ‘fiasco’
- Coe is accused of ‘world-class hypocrisy’ over Palace plans
- £500m Palace developers admit: we don’t know what it’ll do
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