17 April 2009:
When is a Crystal Palace not a Crystal Palace? When it’s a hotel and entertainment complex

The CPCA has received the following letter from Dr Martin Heath.


Come on out you cowards and fight! That's my message to the moneymen lurking in the shadows behind the so-called “Rebuild Crystal Palace” project, which is being fronted publicly by certain traders on the Triangle, and architect Ray Hall.

The Crystal Palace Dialogue saw representatives of the local community throw out the Rebuild scheme and overwhelmingly back a managed nature garden option for the overgrown section of the Crystal Palace hilltop next to the TV mast, where the caravan park was originally located. This concept was incorporated into the London Development Agency Masterplan: "At the northern end of the Terrace, the existing ‘Nature Garden’ is incorporated into a series of ecological spaces, enhancing existing ecologies and creating opportunities for increasing biodiversity." (LDA Masterplan Design & Access Statement)

The Rebuild’s followers responded by hatching a scheme with bankers, businessmen, and the Leader of Bromley Council to bring back the threat of commercial development on a public park, which thousands of people fought so hard and so successfully to prevent. It’s nauseating how the Rebuild recycles propaganda directly from the defeated multiplex. With a sense of déjà vu, we hear that it will create over a thousand jobs and revitalise the area - and that it is loved by everyone, except for a few vocal opponents. So why do those bank-rolling it skulk in the shadows, when they could emerge and bask in public acclaim? Could it be that the project, once underway, would metamorphose into even less acceptable forms? Its original investor never identified himself. Last year, supporters crowed that the Clydesdale Bank had promised over a quarter of a billion pounds. We wrote, asking how this could make business sense in the present (or any) economic climate, but the Bank and Bromley refused to acknowledge our letters.

"Until politicians act decisively over London's parkland, the developers will continue to circle parks like hungry sharks around a sinking life raft"

The Rebuild's name is misleading. The Hyde Park and Sydenham Crystal Palaces celebrated the greatest imperial and industrial power the world had ever seen - at a heady moment in history, which cannot be recaptured.

The Rebuild is about a sordid seizure by moneymen of what is now Metropolitan Open Land in a Grade II* registered park for a hotel, leisure centre and – oh yes, some kind of community facility with charitable status, so that the whole thing can be passed off to the gullible as an act of philanthropy – all packaged up in a Paxtonesque exterior, to cynically exploit nostalgia for the Crystal Palace. If a permanent building for a cultural centre or national exhibition were to be built today, would the Sydenham hilltop be chosen as the prime location? The Rebuild gang chants that nowhere but the historic 1854 Crystal Palace site will do. Yet Hall first wanted a chunk of Blackheath for his project, until local residents fought him off.

The very notion that the future of a public park should be decided by a gaggle of traders in cahoots with big business is outrageous. It highlights a shameful failure of the politicians to give our public open spaces meaningful protection, and to develop a coherent long-term plan for their management. Until politicians act decisively over London's parkland, the developers will continue to circle parks like hungry sharks around a sinking life raft. For some years, the question of whether public parks are sacrosanct or legitimate targets for development (particularly staff-only and other areas not open to the public) has been fought out on a park-by-park basis. Much public-spirited energy, from many people, which might otherwise have been expended usefully in the community on other essential causes, has been absorbed in fighting politicians, planners and developers. This is not a responsible way to administer public open space.

Don’t be tempted to back the Rebuild scheme, or to give it your valuable time, energy or cash, because a major hotel chain, such as is mooted here, can afford to cough up to promote its own scheme. Why give it unpaid labour?

It’s time for the mystery moneymen step out of the shadows and face our community in person.

Dr Martin Heath,
Chair, Ridge Wildlife Group

The letter above is taken from the CPCA Spring 2009 newsletter which includes detailed articles on local issues including the LDA Masterplan application.

Click on the cover to read online or here to download as a PDF (2MB). For hard copies, please contact the CPCA office.

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