Customers at Crystal Palace stadium could be left in the dark

Black-out: with the old floodlights to be removed, the track at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre could be facing a long, dark winter

One week on from an emergency closure of the National Sports Centre and parts of Crystal Palace Park, the venue is being “partially” re-opened today.

But the thousands of runners, jumpers and throwers who train on the track at what was the home of British athletics for half a century could be left in the dark for some time yet, as the NSC’s operators, Greenwich Leisure, and the Greater London Authority find a way of replacing the stadium’s condemned floodlights.

The whole of the sports centre – including gyms and sports hall as well as the stadium – was shut down last Friday when it was discovered that the concrete footings of the near-60-year-old floodlight pylons had become unsafe. “Exclusion zones” for public safety were put in place in the park that surrounds the sports centre last weekend, with some events being cancelled.

A bit Better: GLL’s announcement of ‘partial’ reopening of CPNSC

Last night, GLL announced that, “Crystal Palace will partially re-open from Friday 25th November.

“We’re pleased to inform you know that we’ll be able to re-open from 6.30am tomorrow… We understand that the temporary pause in service may be disappointing, and we’re doing everything we can to fully re-open all facilities at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre for your community as soon as possible.

“We can’t wait to welcome you back,” they said.

The partial re-opening will see the 25-metre swimming pool and teaching pool back in use, the gym, fitness and cycle studios re-opened, as well as the sports hall, dry dive studio, squash courts, weight-lifting gym, tennis and beach volleyball courts and 3G football pitches.

Access to the sports hall via the bridge walkway remains closed, meaning customers have to use a signposted temporary entrance on entering the park. Very limited car parking is available. Some park pathways near the stadium are also temporally closed.

The news was obviously welcomed by the centre’s regular users. “Great to see lifting of the CPNSC full closure,” the Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, a lobby group of coaches and sports groups, tweeted.

“A huge achievement by GLL and GLA under such difficult circumstances.”

Yet earlier in the week, the CPSP’s chair, John Powell, had been hugely critical of the GLA, saying that the emergency closure was the “latest shambolic act in a pathetic, managed decline”.

Powell said: “It was an iconic sporting venue but now it’s being abandoned and left to rot. Nothing solid has been done to resolve the issues.

“It’s a disgrace! Hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on wasted ‘consultation’ exercises and plans leading to nothing.”

The GLA took charge of the sports centre in 2012, and have subjected the venue, and its users, to a decade of uncertainty since, with Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, trying to flog it off to a Chinese property speculator. The centre has been the subject of more than one public consultation over its future since.

The GLA says it remains committed to a repairs and refurbishment programme, although this was initially directed at the diving and 50-metre swimming pools which have been dry for nearly three years, since structural cracks and leaks were discovered in the Grade II*-listed building during the first covid lockdown.

In December 2021, Mayor Sadiq Khan allocated funding for the pools’ repairs. A construction schedule is due next year. “It’s a complicated restoration project on a complex listed building,” a GLA official said last week.

Lighting up time: Green Party AM Caroline Russell raised the matter of replacement lights

The discovery of dangerous floodlights has drawn the GLA’s attention towards the long-neglected athletics stadium, however, where all the floodlight pylons have been condemned as unsafe and need to be removed urgently. “It’s not going to be a quick fix,” the official admitted.

A meeting of the GLA’s Budget and Performance Committee last week heard how the centre requires an annual subsidy of £1.2million, but that needs to be increased to meet rising energy costs, increased staff wages and also to balance the lower income being received from users while important parts of the facilities – such as the swimming and diving pools – are out of use.

“We want to get on with the renovation as quickly as possible to address that,” Tim Steer, GLA’s “executive director of housing and land” told the committee of London Assembly Members.

One committee member, Caroline Russell, managed to provide some illumination to the discussion, highlighting the problem of having a floodlight-less outdoor sports facility in the middle of an English winter. What arrangements, Russell asked, were being made for temporary lighting to allow the thousands who use the track each week to train in the evenings?

Referring to the “complex demolition work” that needs to be carried out to remove the dangerous structures, Steer said that he was “not into the detail” of finding temporary floodlights just yet. So that’ll be a “No” then…

South London’s runners, jumpers and throwers could be in for a dark winter ahead.

Read more: Coe’s Olympic legacy promises left in ruins at Crystal Palace
Read more: When Cram and Ovett held court at a packed Crystal Palace

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1 Response to Customers at Crystal Palace stadium could be left in the dark

  1. Dave West says:

    My running club has used CP track for many years and this has obviously created a difficulty, and considerable debate about what alternative facilities are available. The short answer is that whilst other tracks exist, they are fully utilised by other clubs and often in a poor condition (Tooting Bec had to get to the brink of closure recently before anything was done about it). I feel for swimmers who have already had to bear this for several years.

    The whole levelling up agenda seems to be predicated on the perception of a surplus of facilities in London and a dearth elsewhere so no resources can be allocated, completely ignoring the population density in Greater London. How did we get from a thriving sports facility that hosted sold out international athletics and other events, to the crumbling wreck we now have?

    Of course part of the issue is that athletics was moved to the Olympic Stadium denying Crystal Palace an annual revenue bounty and gifting West Ham a cheap venue. A decision which put my sport there at the mercy of the all conquering football programme. It was blocked last year and it’s taken some behind the scenes political pressure for the Diamond League meeting to take place in 2023 which is no more than honouring the terms of their lease even if it’s inconvenient for the poor things with their mega riches.

    But if West Ham want Stratford, let them buy out athletics and use the money to upgrade the stadium and bring the international meetings back to Crystal Palace – 17,000 people for two nights again? Bring it on!

    But it won’t happen will it?

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