Hands off our park!
Crystal Palace park, a wonderful and historic green oasis in south east London, is under threat yet again - this time from Ken Livingstone’s London Development Agency (LDA), which is due formally to take over the park from Bromley Council in February 2006.
In May 2001, campaigners stopped Bromley from allowing a massive multiscreen cinema to be built in the park. Following the defeat of that scheme, a lottery grant was spent upgrading the famous “dinosaur” area, where the giant models have inspired and excited thousands of children through the years.
But other works completed with the lottery money were of a poor standard, and when the LDA offered to take over the park as a London-wide resource they were seen as a knight in shining armour.
Local people always felt that having Bromley Council take charge of the park in 1986 after the GLC was abolished was a mistake. The areas that need most attention are not in wealthy Bromley and most park users come from the poorer boroughs of Southwark, Croydon, Lewisham and Lambeth, which also border the park.
The park was the site of the Crystal Palace originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was dismantled from its original location in Kensington and moved to Upper Norwood in 1852. Joseph Paxton’s giant greenhouse continued to be used for events and music but was allowed to degenerate until it burned down in 1936. But the park that surrounded the Palace continued to be one of London’s finest parks.
All that is left of the Crystal Palace is the area where the foundations were and some beautiful stone terraces. These have been destroyed by neglect and vandalism. They are now graffiti covered ruins.
Also neglected is the so-called National Sports Centre, built in the park in 1964, which has a running track and Olympic size swimming pool. The pool looks semi-derelict from the outside and the stadium is just as dilapidated.
The LDA has put forward great plans for the park, including a renovation of the terraces and a new sports centre. Crystal Palace is on the new East London Line, giving a direct link to the Olympic area. The facility would not be used for Olympic events but would be great for a training facility. And afterwards south east London would have a much-needed professional standard regional sports centre.
It all sounds fantastic and it is but it comes with a price that many are not prepared to pay. Locals have been told that the only way the works can be funded is by nibbling away at the edges of the park to build 250 houses – executive villas and flats – plus at the Upper Norwood entrance a huge shopping plaza with flats above and possibly a 150-car underground car park.
So there it is – the message from the LDA is the same as from Bromley before them. People living in London, wealthy capital of one of the world’s wealthiest countries, can’t have green spaces funded from that wealth.
Everything has to be a money-making venture and without that – we don’t get the facilities. What makes it even more cynical is that Crystal Palace as a whole has been run down over the years by measures that put traffic before people and the shopping streets are in a bad way. The only supermarket, formerly a Safeway now a Morrison’s, is about to close and at present nobody has come forward to take it over.
So it is tempting for people to go along with the LDA’s plans in the hope that it might breathe new life into the area.
But campaigners in Crystal Palace Community Association reject this carrot and stick exercise.
The urgent action to rebuild the sports centre and improve the station should be done as part of the works for the Olympics. The Terraces and other areas could be upgraded using public funds as part of planning for London 2012.
The houses would be built on an area protected by Metropolitan Open Land status and that would set a precedent that everyone who uses and cares about London’s public parks, allotments and other green spaces should oppose.
If the LDA is as inept as Bromley council the money could easily be frittered away whilst achieving nothing – would they then come back with more housing plans? We need to put principle before pragmatism, and save the park for ourselves and future generations.
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28 October 2005