Majority approval for outline Masterplan  application  18 December 2008


On Tuesday 9th December 2008, Bromley Development Control Committee considered the London Development Agency Masterplan outline application for Crystal Palace Park. In a provocative attempt to divide anticipated opposition, Bromley held the meeting in the Council Chamber rather than the Great Hall. With the seating capacity of the public gallery insufficient for a meeting of such importance, public attendees were 'diverted' into an overflow room and seating on the floor of the chamber.

After lengthy discussion, the LDA application was approved by a majority (11 to 5).

Prior to this decision, CPCA Chair John Payne made the following objection:

"Madam Chairman, Members and Officers:

From the CPCA Letter of Objection and your officers' report, it is quite clear that the LDA application fails to comply with MOL legislation, Bromley UDP, the Mayor’s London Plan and statutory planning policy. While supporting the principle of improvements to Crystal Palace Park, the CPCA strongly opposes sale of public parkland for private housing.

Bromley’s only Grade II* Registered Park is held in trust for the use and enjoyment of its taxpayers and Park stakeholders. Before approving the disposal of precious public parkland, Bromley should consider the LDA’s financial commitment to this Park.

Despite their substantial financial resources, the LDA have publicly stated "The long-term implementation costs of the Master planning designs for the Park will need to be found from a mix of public and public money. The public contribution will be limited. This means that any large-scale works would need commercial investment".

The LDA has previously said it will fund basic Park improvements by selling areas of parkland for blocks of luxury flats. Will this be the way public parks are funded in the future?

Bromley DCC members had previously expressed strong concerns on the housing proposals where Councillor Adams said "we shouldn’t be selling parkland for housing… it really is a dangerous precedent". Bromley Planning Department records confirm the level of public opposition to housing in the Park, as does the LDA's own stakeholder consultation, the 85% opposition to housing in a newspaper poll, and the 7000 signature petition to the London Mayor.

In an attempt to stifle overwhelming public objection, the LDA retained public relations consultants 'local dialogue' whose cynical remit was given on their website as "to maximise support for the scheme and to minimise opposition."

All four neighbouring Boroughs are opposed to the sale of public parkland for private housing;

Lewisham "is not convinced there are 'very special circumstances' which would justify this notable reduction of MOL and the large number of homes that would be built on this MOL".

Southwark said "The proposal would result in substantial new residential development on MOL and on land adjoining MOL".

Croydon Planning Committee expressed its concerns to Bromley about "…the principle of residential development on MOL, and in particular the Rockhills residential scheme".

Lambeth Council warn "...there is real concern that such a proposal would cause a precedent for other MOL in London".

To allow housing on MOL the LDA must demonstrate 'very special circumstances' which, in the view of the CPCA, they have so far failed to do. Falsely and misleadingly, the LDA claims that publicly accessible parkland will be increased. The Park is defined as that land within its boundaries, the nature and use of which can change at any time. Construction of 8, four and five-storey blocks of luxury flats will be irrecoverable loss of precious public parkland.

Nicholas Pearson Associates were commissioned by Bromley Council to review the LDA’s Environmental Statement. They identify the unsubstantiated statements and highlight 44 issues that require clarification from the LDA before a decision can be made. Pearson Associates warn that if the Environmental Statement does not include the full environmental information required, any planning permission granted runs the risk of being quashed. They quote case law supporting this.

The CPCA urges members of this committee to abandon party politics, use their initiative to respect the concerns of their constituents who oppose housing, refuse this application and insist that the LDA return with a more moderate and sustainable scheme that does not rely upon, as a funding strategy, the sale of protected parkland for commercial exploitation. If large areas of our parks are sold off for housing, future generations may ask who were they that allowed this desecration of our heritage".

Other compelling statements of objection were made by:

Alastair Cameron of the Joseph Paxton Society who said

"If we allow building on the site of the old palace we would be destroying one of the most significant Victorian sites in the country and destroying the valuable archaeology of our heritage."

Steve Sawko made a powerful case on behalf of Ledrington Road residents who were

"…completely against the proposed destruction of Ledrington Road Green, directly behind residents' houses and within the conservation area."

He continued

"...The LDA wants to build accommodation for Capel Manor students there, which would be a completely unwanted and unnecessary building. The people I represent will take this to judicial review if necessary."

CPCA committee member Jon Digby-Rogers, a banker specialising in project financing and well qualified to comment on the LDA venture proposals, said he was

"...astounded by the lack of thought this financial plan has had. The costing estimate of £67 million does not include professional fees or VAT. When everything is added up it will be well in excess of £110 million".

Mr Digby-Rogers warned that

"If permission is given for this to proceed and the LDA walks away if it cannot find the money, what's to stop a private investor buying them out and we get the luxury flats, but none of the other improvements?"

Jason Cunningham of The London Bat Group said

"There are eight types of rare bat species in Crystal Palace Park. The LDA plans to fell 473 trees to make way for new building and land clearance. If these tree are cut down, bats will be forced out of the dark and their natural habitat."

Ken Lewington made objection on behalf of the Crystal Palace Foundation. He was concerned that any proposed museum would not be open for many years, removal of retaining walls and trees and tons of soil might change the configuration of the landscape resulting in increased volumes of surface water ending up in Ledrington Road and that tons of spoil might be used to place round the National Sports Centre, in detriment to the appearance of this listed building.

Ken Lewington calculated from the applicant’s own tree survey, that of the 470 trees proposed for removal, 387 of them cannot be diseased or represent a health and safety risk because each one falls within one of the categories under which a tree should or could be retained. Following exposure of this blatant contradiction, perhaps not only the Environmental Statement but all statistics given within the LDA application should now receive further close scrutiny?

Following the approval by Bromley Development Control Committee of the LDA Park master plan, John Getgood, Councillor for Penge and Cator ward posted the following online statements:

"There was a fair turn out of objectors but nowhere near as many as promised. The overflow rooms were not needed."

Fact: The Public Gallery was completely packed with objectors. The overflow room was needed to accommodate objectors and some members of the public were directed to seating on the floor of the Council Chamber. Whilst not actually present, 7000 objectors were represented by the petition they signed, which was shown to the committee by CPCA Chair John Payne.

"Many of the objections were unfounded or misguided."

Fact: The objections were not unfounded or misguided but coherent and unchallenged and undisputed by members of the DCC, who sought only points of clarification. Councillor McBride (Cray Valley East) said the LDA waving a large cheque in the air was not a case for 'very special circumstances'.

"On balance the plan was approved. Some members voted against - not sure how many. They got a round of applause from the gallery but it was on false pretences. They weren’t intending to vote against the plans but wanted to hide behind a deferral."

Fact: The applause from the gallery following statements by Councillors was not on false pretences but spontaneous recognition of the case made against the application by Councillor David McBride (Cray Valley East) and Tom Papworth (Crystal Palace). Councillor McBride did not hide behind a deferral but voted against the application.

"None of the proposed building is on land currently open to the general users of the Park."

Fact: Councillor Getgood heard objector Tony Barnett, Caravan Club Head of Estates, state that the public visited the Caravan Club site daily and were made most welcome.

"There is no precedent for building on park land here. In any case, in planning law you cannot argue that because a principle was allowed once, it should be allowed again."

Fact: Councillor Getgood is mistaken. Although there can be no precedents in planning law, the claim by objectors to the LDA application concerning the sale of public parkland for residential development, does not involve planning law, which applies only when an application is made. Sale of public parkland for commercial development would establish a precedent.

"The legal agreement between the Council and the LDA ensures that all money raised by the sale of housing will be ring fenced for use in the first phase of improvements."

Fact: All the money raised by the sale of housing will not be ring fenced for use in the first phase of improvements as it will be received by the developers. The legal agreement mis-quoted by Councillor Getgood applies to money raised by sale of land, not houses.

"As the only member of the committee with residents close to the park, I was convinced that the plan gave people in Penge the best hope of a park they can be proud of."

Fact: Whilst this statement is factually correct, Councillor Tom Papworth (Crystal Palace) made strong objection to the LDA masterplan application on behalf of the thousands of his constituents living far closer to the Park than those of Councillor Getgood.

It is to be hoped that Councillor Getgood’s overall perception of the massive LDA application is sounder than his misapprehensions identified.

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