London Mayor Sadiq Khan has approved the immediate spending of up to £10million to bring key parts of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace back into use, providing for urgent repairs to the Olympic-sized swimming pool and for the outdoor 400-metre track and indoor training area to be up-graded.
The move comes after more than three years of dither and delay by the Mayor and Greater London Authority, which has responsibility for the centre. Mayor Khan previously pledged to get the pools repaired in 2021.
The pools have been unusable following the sports centre’s closure for the first covid lockdown, when the main swimming and diving pools were drained and structural cracks discovered in the 60-year-old facility.
Mayor Khan has also pledged a longer-term commitment to a “once-in-a-generation redevelopment” of the site, which in its notable history has hosted early FA Cup finals and rugby union internationals, as well as World Cup athletics meets and even a Papal visit.
According to a report in The Times, “senior figures hope Crystal Palace could eventually provide British athletics with an alternative home to the problematic London Stadium in the capital”.
Mayor Khan said, “Crystal Palace National Sports Centre is a historic and much-loved sporting and community facility where many UK sporting stars have started their careers and trained, but which is in need of major investment and refurbishment.
“I am completely committed to this once-in-a-generation redevelopment of the site which will secure its future for decades to come. While work continues apace on our vision for the long-term future of the centre, I am delighted to announce that we intend to make a number of early improvements that we hope will make a huge difference to users of the centre.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to work closely with key stakeholders — including sporting bodies and wider community groups — to deliver an outstanding venue that our capital and our country can be proud of.”
The report further suggests that a longer-term scheme will see a planning application for the comprehensive redevelopment of the centre brought forward by next April, with work to begin in 2025. “It is estimated it will take five years to deliver the plan.”
The immediate, quick-fix, with spending “in single-figure millions” over the next 12 months – coincidentally, Mayor Khan is seeking re-election in May 2024 – should bring the badly neglected track and indoor training areas back up to usable standard, as well as installing replacement floodlights and upgrading the main fitness gym.
The paper reports, “A complete overhaul of the stunning main centre, which was opened in 1964, will require investment running into tens of millions but a statement from his office said Khan is also committed to ‘comprehensively redeveloping the site, including a complete rebuild of the swimming pools’ structure and improved sporting facilities’.”
With a project director appointed, the longer-term proposals include “reviewing the scale of the athletics stadium”.
Issues with the 1960s concrete construction of the main stand were among the reasons given for the venue’s virtual abandonment by sports bodies and local government over the last decade, when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, even though Crystal Palace had been designated to be a regional centre of excellence as part of the 2012 Olympic “legacy” plans.
The additional complication for any planning is that the main sports hall and pools building is Grade II*-listed – restricting what can be done to the place structurally.
In his statement, Khan said the building needs to be “redeveloped sensitively, respecting its historic and architectural significance”.
And echoing what coaches and centre users have been saying since the turn of the century, Khan’s statement said, “maintenance alone will not solve the challenges facing the building, and a larger refurbishment project is required”.
As previously reported, it seems very likely that some of the funding will be provided by London Marathon Events, the not-for-profit foundation which organises a series of events, raising millions towards sporting projects in and around the capital.
THE TEN-YEAR SAGA OF THE PALACE’S NEGLECT
From 2013: Chinese government has role in £500m Crystal Palace scheme
2014: Coe’s company was given brief to bulldoze sports stadium
2018: Is the bell sounding for the final lap at Crystal Palace NSC?
2021: Mayor Khan agrees to repair Crystal Palace swimming pools
2022: Customers at Crystal Palace stadium could be left in the dark
2023: London Stadium deal could give Crystal Palace new lease of life
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I wonder whether refurbishment of Crystal Palace could include provision for Croydon Harriers to have a place of excellence beyond a rather tired Croydon Arena funded or not by a bankrupted council.
Perhaps too Croydon council could combine such a move with securing Football Foundation monies for a 3G pitch at the Arena that would raise a continuous income for investment in the Arena. The Football Foundation has done a report on the shortfall in 3G pitch provision in Croydon and looks to provide money for extra pitches.
Athletics clubs, Andrew, are like any other sports club, be it football, rugby or cricket: they know where their heart and their home lies.
Croydon Arena is, to the borough’s shame, the only publicly available track in Croydon.
Croydon Harriers have been based there for most of their history. Moving them to Crystal Palace would move them outside of Croydon – a bit like sending Wimbledon football club off into exile at Milton Keynes.
There is a need for more sports facilities to be provided in Croydon, not less.
Welcome news from Sadiq Khan on this.
The picture shows the NSC’s beautiful pool building and diving board are high quality examples of 20th C architecture. It would be a great loss if they were left to decay even more.
However, they are surrounded by a sea of ugly buildings and outdoor structures that make the area look worn out.
How much of this rubbish can be swept away and replaced with something decent, we will presumably only know once the design team and their cost advisers have had a chance to look at the options–and then, the difficult part, provide a set of realistic costings for each option.
The last time I looked uo the NCC website, it said……
Ensuring a sustainable future
The Mayor’s vision is to provide a centre for everyone. The CPNSC will be a space for sports & recreation, health & wellbeing, that meets the needs of both sports communities and local people.
Watch this space.
What about the conservative south of the Croydon borough. Purley desperately needs a better facility but he’ll (Khan) may see no votes in that so would view no point which is the problem with politicians and politics. Ultimately they do what gets them elected/re-elected so securing safe or flipping marginal is what drives them.
That’s not how facility provision generally works. Because Crystal Palace NSC was a national centre, it proved too large and costly for one borough to operate it. Bromley were saddled with the NSC for a while after Thatcher abolished the old GLC. The GLA taking it on was the right thing to do.
In the main, sports facilities are borough responsibilities.
The reason there’s no pool or leisure centre in Purley is that after 12 years of Tory government austerity and a cost of living crisis, Croydon Council is pot-less, and Tory Mayor Jason Perry was either lying (most likely) or got his sums horribly wrong (also possible: the bloke’s a nincompoop) when he claimed he would re-open Purley Pool for just £3.5m.
Just one of several election pledges from Perry broken in his first year in office.
This is welcome news, and I wish them every success.
But the devil, it seems, may be in the detail. Single figure millions this year for the athletics stadium, and a plan beginning in 2025 requiring five years, tens of millions and a complete rebuild of the pool structure? Potentially meaning no 50m pool or diving pool until 2030, and that’s assuming the tens of millions arrives on schedule.
A better outcome than permanent closure? Certainly. But still a long, long time.
On reflection, the NSC should have been given “Olympic legacy” funding to put it back into good working order, as its decline in status was definitely bound up with the rise of the Olympic Park.
A worry is that this project will end up spending money on things that are really no longer appropriate on this site, or on buildings and structures that need to be ripped out entirely. Some buidings and facilities are of high quality, some are not.
The pool building, particularly from inside, with the light coming through the elegant latticework of window frames, and iconic diving board, reaLLY does have that real quality and profound beauty that makes the whole worthy of its Grade 2 Listing. A fine work of Mid 20th Century British architecture.
But it has always occurred to me, even back in the 70’s, that other areas nearby are just plain ugly, and bleak in appearance. Not the stadium, but the fenced playing pitches seen from the rather bleak raised decks.
It seems to have grown older but has become shabby, rather like older schools with good orginal buildings, set in grounds that have gradually been filled up with portable buildings and various add-ons, but with no overall vision or plan.
It’s time for a new design, in my view. A fresh look, by a client team and design team who can see not just sport, but look at the overall potential for a new centre which will allow people to enjoy other fitness-promoting activities in a beautiful setting.
The key design problem is that much of the the NSC turns its back on the Park. In many ways, it might as well be anywhere, for all the good it does for the park that hosts it. In the park, yes, but not part of the park. A pity.
It would be nice to see a re-design which would achieve both a thriving sport and recreational centre of excellence, where top-rank sport could be conducted, along with training, but also plenty of health-promoting and other recreational things for the general visiting public to do. The new and restored buildings and track could be integrated with new facilities, in a greener, park-like setting, so that there would be a harmonious relationship between the wider Park and a reborn Crystal Palace NSC.
The dip in the park in which the NSC sits, is a natural sun trap, sheltered against winds by mounding built when the Park itself was built, which were then planted with trees, now mature and beautiful. But the mounds do cut the NSC area off from the busy lower end of the Park itself. The mounding to the North side of the Plane Tree avenue acts as a visual wall, blanking off the views from the lower park. It could be cut back or lowered in this area, to open up views of the NSC pool, and allow visual integration in both directions. With selected trees planted to “muzz” the outline of the NSC pool, to avoid any starkness.
A year or two ago, during the pubic consultation, I wrote and suggested that the iconic NSC pool should be connected with a new, informally designed outdoor lido pool, via a watergate, so that people could swim inside or out, or both. The lido would be set in green lawns with shade trees to allow people to come and spend a day or half a day in beautiful surroundings, as they do in continental Europe.
Apparently, as I was told when I later contacted the consultation team, that this watery connection of two pools would not be possible due to the level of the indoor pool. However, I pondred whether there could be a connection of another kind, like a wide gate and sun deck ?
Would there be demand for such a lido ? With global warming, perhaps our Summers will become hotter ?
It would be like a greener version of the old Purley Way Pool , of golden memory.
A safe and secure, and green site for outdoor recreation, has to be designed carefully to allow good nightime security and, by day, keep non-payers out of areas where payment has to be made, so secure fencing would be needed to enclose these core areas.
Who is going to be the Client who has the vision, who will commission the design options?
I would really like to see evidence that Sadiq is going to have a thorough design review, not just allocate a few millions to patch repairs.
But, anything that keeps the pool open and free from advancing dereliction is welcome.
Can’t cracks in the bottom or sides be filled ?