Any prospect of extending the tram network to Crystal Palace could hit the buffers before its backers even check-in at a platform, if the GLA gets its way.
Piece by piece, the Greater London Authority, which has responsibility for the sorely under-maintained National Sports Centre and some influence over Crystal Palace Park, is slowly disassembling the sporting infrastructure in the area. A public consultation being held later this week provides a significant clue to their ultimate intent.
Certainly, one instant effect if Capel Manor College gets their way to build on Metropolitan Open Land within the Garde II-listed park would be to jeopardise any tram extension to Crystal Palace.
Capel Manor is a further education college which specialises in horticulture and arboriculture. It also operates the park’s small “farm” of domesticated animals. Capel Manor is currently based in the Jubilee Stand along the back straight of the athletics stadium. But with the GLA’s active encouragement, they are pursuing plans to build a £4.9million three-storey college on part of the park, with funds provided via the Mayor of London’s office.
Their scheme has the backing of Tory-controlled Bromley Council, who have long held an odd perspective of their role as custodians of the park, while Malcolm Goodwin, the principal of Capel Manor College, has referred to the prospect of plonking a large slab of bricks and concrete on MOL parkland as, “our opportunity to help return the park to its full glory”.
The multi-million-pound funding comes from London’s Economic Action Partnership, or LEAP. The publicity around the scheme suggests that the college “needs to vacate our existing premises in the NSC” (our italics). That “need” is true only if, like the GLA, you have a hidden agenda to shut down the Jubilee Stand (built in 1977) and save more than £500,000 a year in maintaining that building.
For where Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, together with his Tory pal Seb Coe, failed in their dodgy attempts to bulldoze the athletics facilities at the National Sports Centre to get its upkeep costs off their books, bit by bit Sadiq Khan – or at least the public servants staffing the GLA on his watch – appears to be succeeding in that goal.
In August, The Lodge, the 10-storey block that over the years provided hostel accommodation for tens of thousands of young sportspeople attending courses of competitions at the centre was shut down abruptly when someone suddenly discovered that the building had cedar wood cladding. The Lodge was built 50 years ago. The decision to close the building on fire safety grounds was taken by the GLA.
There is, of course, a “masterplan” for Crystal Palace Park, though that never included building a massive college on parkland. Under that plan, Capel Manor was expected to move to a site just outside the park’s boundaries, at Ledrington Road, and close to the farm. However, that site sits above the railway tunnel leading towards Crystal Palace Station and would need specialist and costly foundations. The GLA was reluctant to pick up the additional cost.
The GLA worked on this latest proposal with Capel Manor in secret, without informing or consulting with the park’s other stakeholders. Bromley council, a source suggests, was not informed until the talks were virtually complete. When Capel Manor raised the possibility of staying within the current area occupied by the sports centre – such as, for instance, utilising the area currently occupied by The Lodge – they were told by the GLA that this would cause problems because there had been objections to siting a free school within the NSC and that the site now under consideration on Anerley Hill, close to the Crystal Palace Museum, would be less problematic.
“This is, of course, complete, self-serving bullshit,” according to a source.
It appears that Capel Manor may have been offered the old Museum building (not the GLA’s to offer in the first place), an offer now withdrawn.
Pushing the project on behalf of the GLA, and organising the public consultation sessions this week, is public relations consultants Thorncliffe.
Thorncliffe have an interesting track record in dealing with the public and public authorities. They used to be known as Indigo. They changed their name, chameleon-like, soon after one of their staff, a councillor in the north-east, was found providing a dossier on a planning committee for the PR firm’s clients.
In south London, it was a former Labour councillor in Brentford, Matt Harmer, a director of Thorncliffe, who provided a short presentation on the Capel Manor College scheme to the Crystal Palace Park Trust a few weeks ago. Promises that details of the scheme would be published on the project’s website in the week of the public consultation have so far been unfulfilled.
This all comes as the GLA is set to carry out another costly consultation exercise over future plans for the NSC stadium, due to begin next year. Provisional costs of the project are estimated to be around £50million, but there is no funding available and there is no immediate prospect of funds being available in the near future, either.
By getting Capel Manor out of the Jubilee Stand, the GLA will be able to continue to kick the regeneration can down the road, with major consequences not just for the NSC but also the regeneration of the entire park.
According to our source familiar with the planning issues around Crystal Palace Park, “There is plenty of space on the NSC footprint, including the now condemned Lodge, to accommodate the college. But this would entail the GLA starting work across the site.
“Much better for them to be able to dump their problem in the park.”
One other significant part of City Hall’s hidden agenda for this bit of SE19 is also the prospect of Croydon, Bromley and Lambeth councils coming together with a costed, funded and viable scheme to, finally, bring the tram extension to Crystal Palace, as was exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon this week.
The preferred route for any tram tracks would be within the park, with trams terminating at the top of Anerley Hill, close to the existing bus stand. This plan – which has been around for a decade or more – has always needed to use land which is now being touted as part of the site being proposed for Capel Manor College’s new building.
“If the college is placed on Anerley Hill, it kills the tramline extension to Crystal Palace, which has widespread local backing,” said another source familiar with planning around the park.
“The proposed route is for the tram to turn off Anerley Hill to Crystal Palace railway station, go along Ledrington Road, enter the park and go along the proposed site for the college, terminating as closely as possible at the bus station on Crystal Palace Parade.
“This is another example of London’s strategic authority jeopardising strategic goals for short-term expediency.”
And now local politicians such as Angela Wilkins, the leader of the opposition Labour group on Bromley Council, are beginning to recognise that Capel Manor needs to be given a different site.
“Having bigger and better buildings for Capel Manor College in the park is a no brainer,” Wilkins, a councillor for Crystal Palace ward, told Inside Croydon.
“But the site they now want – or have been pushed in to by GLA officers working on regenerating the National Sports Centre – is earmarked for the Tramlink extension, which is now back on the agenda.
“There are lots of better sites in Crystal Palace Park.”
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