Proposed ‘rebuild’ of the Crystal Palace
 [From the CPCA Spring 2008 newsletter]

The much-hyped new construction at Crystal Palace Park is not, as claimed, a ‘rebuild’ of the Crystal Palace. It is a vast commercial complex, marketed as a fairy story, but in truth a desecration of public parkland for private profit.

This massive scheme, with its associated infrastructure, would occupy up to 20 acres of Crystal Palace Park hilltop – the area originally earmarked for the abortive multiplex. However, this parody of the Hyde Park Crystal Palace is anything but miniature. At a third the size (although currently quoted as two thirds the size) of the one million square feet Sydenham Crystal Palace, its prime use would be as a 4/5 star hotel, with conference facilities, unspecified leisure/recreation uses and other commercial activities.

Sue Nagle, a former resolute opponent of major built development on the hilltop, but now a leading proponent of the so-called ‘rebuild’, claims in the Norwood Society’s Spring 2008 Review that: “The scheme, estimated at £265 million, will be privately funded” and that: “ Not one penny from the public purse will be necessary!” Ms Nagle modestly claims that the proposed hotel, recreation and leisure complex: “is going to be the most prestigious building in the world”.

Another Crystal Palace replica – Homebase, Catford
Another Crystal Palace replica – Homebase, Catford

As a blatantly commercial venture, one would not expect it to receive benefit from the public purse, but with breathtaking arrogance Ms Nagle calls upon Bromley Council to commit valuable land, they hold in trust for their council tax-payers, to enable this commercial speculation.

Corporate investors would not believe their good fortune should such an outrageous strategy be successful. Some might consider the ‘rebuild’ an audacious attempt to railroad-through commercial development, in a pastiche of Paxton’s Crystal Palace, whilst hijacking public land worth millions of pounds.

Visitors to Ms Nagle’s Church Road exhibition were shown a redundant video that featured the 1851 Hyde Park Palace and not the 1854 Sydenham Palace, and may not have realised there is no proposal to rebuild a replica of Paxton’s original Crystal Palace and that they were being asked to support development of a five star hotel with other recreational and leisure facility. Surprisingly, despite claims that “funding is in place”, the architect is unable to provide an updated DVD due to cost restraint, and no planning application supported by Environmental and Transport Impact assessments has been submitted to Bromley.

Blanket opposition to the multiplex revolved around, not just permanent loss of parkland, but also the damaging effect on the surrounding area and roads of a large one-stop commercial development with an insatiable appetite for a procession of service vehicles and cars.

When Bromley granted planning permission for the multiplex they did so in the awareness that an investment of this scale could not be allowed to fail. Accordingly, the applicant was given carte blanche for possible change of use to ensure the continued viability of the development. The same would be true of the proposed Crystal Palace building with its multi-million pound investment.

If for whatever reason, the operation of the proposed 4/5 star hotel-recreation-leisure complex were to become unviable, conversion of the complex to expensive luxury apartments would be a likely outcome.

Worryingly, Mayor Livingstone, Cllr Stephen Carr, Leader of Bromley Council and Cllr Mike Fisher, Leader of Croydon Council, are quoted as supporting the idea despite the absence of a planning application, Environmental Impact Assessment, Traffic Impact Assessments or basic business plan. Such proposal would be contrary to the Mayor’s London Plan and Bromley’s and Croydon’s UDPs, which maintain that protection of Metropolitan Open Land is paramount.

Some might favour a small structure, commemorating Paxton’s original Palace that would provide access and protection to the Subway and the tree-lined ridge, with possible uses that were not overtly commercial. It would, of course, need to respect the Crystal Palace Acts and be ancillary to MOL uses.

Would future generations thank us for allowing yet more depletion of green open space for further commercial exploitation of a public park? What is really needed to enable ‘regeneration’ of the area is the restoration of this once beautiful park – to become again a landmark in its own right.

[For the whole newsletter, click here]

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