Shawcross steps up as Crystal Palace Park looks to the future

The dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park in yesterday morning’s snow

It has been a momentous week for the upkeep and improvement of one of the capital’s under-appreciated gems, writes MARTIN TEMPIA

When a former head of planning at the London Borough of Bromley described Crystal Palace Park as the “unloved stepdaughter of London parks, who never gets her fair share of the sweeties”, he had a point.

People may argue with “unloved”, but no one can deny that compared to many of London’s Parks, Crystal Palace has been starved of funds for decades.

The park was “gifted” to Bromley following the demise of the GLC in 1986. It was a “gift” Bromley didn’t particularly want and could well have done without.

The demands of a listed 200-acre public park, with a diverse range of landscapes, a host of listed heritage assets (including the Grade I-listed dinosaur statues) and a 1960s sports arena, slap bang in the centre of it, was beyond the means of any one London borough to manage, let alone maintain or improve.

It’s no surprise that the park came to be seen as a “problem” for Bromley. In the absence of public funds, commercial redevelopment was seen as a way of providing the means necessary for the park’s restoration. The downside was that such plans usually entailed covering one-third of the park in concrete.

Johnson with Chinese industrialist Ni Zhaoxing on the steps of the original Crystal Palace in October 2013. Talks had been going on in secret for two years

In the 1970s, Tesco had come forward with plans to build a superstore on the upper terrace, the remains of the original Crystal Palace, around which the park had been set, but which burned down in 1936.

In the late 1980s, the Kuwait National Investment Company proposed building a hotel and leisure centre, complete with cinema and bowling alley, on the site. Come the ’90s, and there was the “Multiplex” proposal, a three-storey concrete slab, housing bars, a cinema, parking for a thousand cars on the roof and yes, a bowling alley.

More recently there was the £500million proposal from China’s ZhongRong Corporation to rebuild the Crystal Palace. No bowling alley this time, instead a six-star (yes, six) hotel and an international gemstone trading centre.

Anyone unfamiliar with this proposal and how it came about should look through Inside Croydon’s archive. Thanks to some remarkable investigative journalism by iC, the whole ludicrous pantomime was laid bare. One GLA officer, in an unguarded moment, described it as the then London Mayor Boris Johnson’s “Pharaonic” legacy for London.

Apart from wasting two and a half years and costing the park £5million in a lost Heritage Lottery grant, nothing came of it. Equally unsurprising, the Mayor’s “Plan B” never materialised.

The Crystal Palace Bowl could soon be staging major concerts once again. Pic: Gareth Gray

It was at this point that the community stepped in and convinced Bromley that the park should be handed over to a community-based Trust. This they did, as well as agreeing to fund a regeneration plan which would become a template for the Trust to take over management of the park and fund its restoration. One of the factors which convinced Bromley to take this step was the impressive work being undertaken by community organisations in the park, including running projects and raising funds.

The Crystal Palace Park Trust was established in 2016. Since then, progress towards it taking control of the park has been something of a roller coaster ride.

But last week saw a tsunami of good news.

First, the Trust agreed a three-year contract with the promoters Festival Republic to stage music events on the Italian Terraces. Negotiations with a second promoter to stage a series of summer proms in the Concert Bowl are close to agreement. With a mantra “what is earned in the park, stays in the park”, the revenue from these events will enable the Trust to start a programme of improvements, including the restoration of the concert platform.

Secondly, Bromley have agreed to start the long and complex legal process of handing over the park to the Trust. Last Tuesday, the Charity Commission granted the Trust charitable status. And finally, on Tuesday evening, the trustees unanimously agreed to appoint Val Shawcross as the new chair of the Trust.

As a former leader of Croydon Council, a GLA member for 16 years and a deputy mayor to Sadiq Khan, Shawcross brings a huge amount of credibility and expertise to the Trust. During Ken Livingstone’s Mayoral administration, she had special responsibility for the park. She lives in the area, uses the park regularly and cares passionately about its future.

New role: Val Shawcross is now chair of the Crystal Palace Park Trust

Her contribution to date as a trustee has been significant.

Apart form unlocking doors previously closed to the Trust, she has laid the administrative foundations for the sound governance of both the Trust and ultimately the park.

Over the coming months she will lead the Trust in appointing a park management team, prioritise improvement projects and preparing for the incremental take over of responsibilities, such as park maintenance, by the Trust. Of particular importance will be overseeing the progress of the Outline Planning Application for the park’s regeneration which, when approved, will also provide the capital funds needed to start the restoration of the park’s heritage assets.

After years of neglect and many false starts, Crystal Palace Park is inching towards the secure and sustainable future it deserves. Issues of funding, management and governance are slowly drifting into alignment and there is now a real belief that we have an achievable plan that guarantees the Park’s future.

There are bound to be setbacks as things move forward, but it looks as though the “unloved stepdaughter” may soon get the sweeties she has been so patiently waiting for and so richly deserves. And about time too.

  • Martin Tempia is a trustee of the Crystal Palace Park Trust, and the immediate part co-chair. For more information about the Trust, visit its website here.

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6 Responses to Shawcross steps up as Crystal Palace Park looks to the future

  1. Lewis White says:

    Let’s hope that funding will be sufficient to support the regeneration of the Park.
    In 2020 the key event for the future of the park was the submission of a Planning Application, which deals with the whole of the park except the hole in the middle of the park –the National Sports Centre. A key part of the project is to release land on the Eastern boundary for new blcoks of flats, to provide funds for the regeneration of the Park . This in fact follows the Victorian precedent, which saw building of very large “Villas” on the East frontage of the park. One has to hope that the funds thereby raised are enough. Thank goodness the Proposals were not publicised or labelled as “2020 Vision”.

    The NSC is the property of the GLA, so the Mayor has to fund the current stages of paying for architects and consultants to come up with a detailed designdesign , based on the initial proposals a few years ago about what should be done to regenerate the NSC, which has a Grade 2 listed Swimming Pool, and a stadium that was much used in the 1970’s for international -standard events, plus other buildings and pitches. There was a public consultation.

    The designs so far (and it is possible that they will change) seem to cater for a mix of conventional “Sports” and activities that will promote general health and fitness.

    My own “wish list” top item ( sadly, not actually proposed in the current ideas) was for a landscaped outdoor lido, with a direct water gate to allow people to swim indoors in the iconic brutalist architecture of the 1960’s pool, and then swim through the watergate , to emerge smiling outdoors into the freedom and sunshine, at any season (well, outdoor freedom even if the sun were not shining) . It would have a leisure pool of naturalistic shape, plus a rectangular pool for swimming lengths, plus of course, outdoor diving boards allowing the young and fit to show off. All would be surrounded with sheltered lawns for sunbathing and for children and youths to run around on, and play volleyball, and of course, banks of fragrant roses. There would be a big green house on wheels (on mini railway lines), which would be wheeled over a “winter lawn and paved area” , to allow weekend sunbathing. Wonderful !

    I have a distant memory of the Purley Way Pool, in the 1960’s, and the “Sugar Bowl” pool at Burgh Heath near Banstead, with swimmers, jumpers-off the siders- and splashers, plus sun-bathing crowds and preening posers in swimming trunks and bikinis, which inspired my vision for a “South London Lido” at the heart of the park.

    Never mind, it is unlikely that my ideas will come to pass.

    Wha I do hope is that the NSC is far better integreted visually, and connected with the regenerated park , than the current design allowed for. It –the NSC–was rather like a Martian space ship that crash landed in the park.

    It is in a dip, which cuts the North part of the park off from the South. The dip is in fact a long standing historical feature dating from the original design, when it was occupied by two enomous formal waters, which had fountains.

    Also, that generous parking is provided so that people can get to it (and the surriunding park) quickly from Croydon and points West, South, East and North. We can glide there in electro-powered pods.

    The Crystal Palace Park is rather like a work of Landscape art which is never finished. It has provided a home, for a while, for a range of artefacts– ponds, fountains, Shinxes, heroically scaled terraces and steps– and the biggest of all– the re-located Crystal Palace itself. The ever-popular Dinosaurs have enjoyed a home around 150 years so far.

    Activities, motor racing, concerts, skateboarding, exhibitions etc etc–have been played out on the terrain. They come and go. The people continue to come in droves to enjoy the park, get fresh air and recreation, refreshment, and people-watching.

    Marvellous. I do hope that we don’t have to wait too long, for the Park Rgeneration and the reborn NSC. And concerts , both pop and classic.

    I think it needs to be realised with help from Government and Lottery– and maybe a temporary tax on everyone in the boroughs (Croydon, Bromley, Lambeth and Southwark) which surround the Park.

    Maybe Kew Gardens could be persuaded to build some Green houses, and have a Kew-on-the-Hill, on the site of the glass palace itself.

  2. I share Lewis’s concerns about the Sports Centre.. Last I heard, the GLA’s proposals were costed at £50 million. Can anyone see them coming up with that amount any time soon?

  3. Lewis White says:

    Many years ago, when they were building the Lee Valley Park in East London and Essex, some clever person not only devised a scheme whereby London councils and Essex and Herts County Councils paid for the much of the cost of running of the park (and perhaps the building of the park too), but the politicians must have agreed. The Bill to set up the park was approved by Royal Consent in December 1966.

    Over the decades since, there has been crtiticism of the arrangement by councils located in S and W London, which are miles away from the park.

    In 2015, a certain Val Shawcross GLA member (Labour Group) asked the London Mayor whether a modification to the arrangement could be adopted to pay for Crystal Palace Park.

    Here is the question :-
    London Assembly Questions to the Mayor Lea Valley Park Precept Meeting: MQT on 2015-03-25

    “Would you be supportive of any move to seek to amend the operation of the Lea Valley Precept, for example to allocate a portion of the monies raised to a strategically important south London park, such as Crystal Palace?”

    Answer :-
    Answered By: The Mayor Date: Wednesday, 1st April 2015

    “The Lee Valley Regional Park is part funded by a levy on the 33 London billing authorities as well as on Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils and Thurrock Borough Council. In 2015-16, London boroughs will contribute a total of £8.1 million in levy payments to the Authority – equivalent to 98p per Londoner or £3 per band D council taxpayer.

    The determination of the levy is a matter for the Park Authority having regard to the existing legislation and the revenues raised could not, under current arrangements, be redirected to fund other activities. I am aware however of the concerns raised about the cost of the levy for Londoners living some distance from the park. My colleague Richard Tracey wrote a very thoughtful and informative paper on the matter in 2012.

    I would of course be happy to consider proposals for reforming the current levy arrangements provided an alternative sustainable source of revenue for the Lee Valley Park could be identified. The Park Authority has taken steps to reduce the levy burden on taxpayers in recent years and I would encourage them to continue to find ways to reduce the levy in the future.

    I am also committed to supporting investment in Crystal Palace and other key strategic parks in London but I am not convinced that replicating the historic Lee Valley levy structure is necessarily the best way to deliver this”.

    (ps The Mayor was Boris Johnson, MP)

  4. Mary Cooper says:

    Wonderful news about Crystal Palace Park A fantastic historical magical place for all

  5. Andy Stem says:

    Best news for years!!!

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