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Keep our park public!

Opponents of plans to sell off land from Crystal Palace Park to developers have presented a 7,000-signature petition to the London Assembly.

Crystal Palace demoThe plans to raise money from luxury housing and retail developments come from the London Development Authority, the planning and economic development arm of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

He asked the LDA to draw up plans to revive the run-down park in south London, which is one of  the capital’s largest open spaces. Because the LDA has little public money, its proposals are based on raising commercial income to finance the park’s redevelopment.

But the park is classed as Metropolitan Open Land, previously seen as conferring iron-clad protection against private development. The LDA is confident, however, that the government will allow it to vary the rules. 

If the Mayor gives his approval to the plans, it would set a precedent that could open the floodgates for breaking up more city parks and open spaces for developers, campaigners warn.

Joseph, a member of the campaign committee, said: “This is just a method whereby developers can get access to public parks and if the Mayor agrees these proposals, it is simply an invitation to more speculative building.

“Already there is mass building on playing fields, bits of gardens and every other open space. Soon life in London will be a living hell. It is so unfair that we have to be vigilant all the time, because those who are running the system cannot be trusted to represent the interests of Londoners who elected them.”

The LDA has tried to win local support by making clear that plans to improve the park can only happen if money is raised from land sales. Crystal Palace is one of London’s most beautiful Victorian parks, but has been allowed to deteriorate for the last two decades. 

But as chair of the Crystal Palace Community Association John Payne told banner-waving protesters outside City Hall: “The idea we can finance essential work in our parks by selling them piecemeal is as crazy as trying to pay for your medical care by selling your organs.”

It is ironic that this new threat comes just as the European Court of Justice has finally ruled that the last attempt to build on Crystal Palace Park breached European environment laws.

The case was initiated by the Crystal Palace Campaign after Bromley Council, in 1999 gave final planning permission for the massive cinema multiplex in Crystal Palace Park without an environmental assessment of its impact.

Finally, in May this year, the European Court of Justice found Bromley - along with the government and John Prescott's (now Ruth Kelly’s) department - guilty of breaking European environment law by granting planning permission without an environmental impact assessment.

Bromley Council relied on 1999 regulations issued by John Prescott's department that an environmental assessment could only be required at the initial outline planning stage, not later during the planning process, as was the case here, ending with so-called "reserved matters".

That was wrong, ruled the European Court in Luxembourg. The relevant European Directive says "that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment, ... must be made subject to an assessment with regard to their effects before (multi-stage) development consent is given".

Crystal Palace demoA heavy fine could be imposed by the European authorities on the UK government if it fails to ensure promptly that the planning process complies fully with the European Directive. This means that all across the country environmental assessments could be called for at any time up to and including the final so-called "reserved matters" stage of the planning process.

The CPC's complaint was taken up by the European Commission which in 2001 gave the UK government two months to come into compliance. But the government was defiant and has allowed the European legal process to grind on resulting in their final humiliation as they lost every legal argument.

It was the determination of local people that saw off the multi-screen plan – Mayor Livingstone, please take note!

indent Hands off our park!

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