The archived pdf Newsletters (1 to 81) were edited by Dr Martin Heath as superviser of the Belair Project, and include attributed contributions by others. Some have been reconfigured here as blog posts for ease of browsing and viewing. (An archive of the original PDFs is available here.) More recent newsletters are posted below.
An open letter to the cllrs of the London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.
RE: Crystal Palace Park proposal.
There is a widespread perception amongst supporters of the scheme to re-build the Crystal Palace that it has been proposed by a fabulously wealthy businessman, Mr Ni, a billionaire philanthropist who has the financial muscle to ensure that the project will be successful, regardless of costs or the ups and downs of the economic climate. Mr Ni, it is claimed in some media reports, wishes to build us an exact replica of the 1854 Crystal Palace. He is acting purely out of love for this historic building and he will neither need nor expect any immediate financial returns from the project.
On the face of it, this heart-warming story appears to have fallen apart…
● Mr Ni does not appear to have sufficient assets to undertake this project.
Forbes business magazine maintains a list of the world’s billionaires that is frequently updated. It estimates the net worth of Mr Ni Zhaoxing, CEO of Zhongrong International Holdings, as $1.3 billion. He is a dollar billionaire, not a pounds sterling billionaire, and his net assets amount to about £780 million.
The cost of the Crystal Palace Park development has been estimated as £500 million. If this project were coming out of Mr Ni’s own resources, he would have to be prepared to sacrifice about two thirds of of his assets to complete it (or, since large cost overruns are not uncommon in big projects, quite possibly all of it, with a risk of debt). In other words, his personal wealth and philanthropy are not convincing guarantees – they are irrelevant – even if he were prepared, quite literally, to give us the shirt off his back.
● We have still been shown no business case for locating this commercial development on our Park.
In response to questions about the choice of this site and whether any attempt had been made to identify an optimum location in London where the project might maximise its financial viability, enjoy the best possible transport infrastructure and also maximise employment prospects for Londoners, we have been told that the site is non-negotiable and based entirely on historical nostalgia.
The continued failure to publish a business plan demonstrating the feasibility of the scheme at its obligatory location is excused, childishly, by the assertion that Mr Ni is so wealthy that he does not need a foreseeable return for his input. We have not seen even a rudimentary feasibility study/ business plan of the kind that we might expect from a responsible owner of a local café, corner shop or ice cream van, yet we are being asked to believe that a developer is prepared to seriously consider committing (very possibly losing) hundreds of millions of pounds on the basis of a whim.
We are being promised jobs for 1,000 people, but these cannot exist unless the project is economically realistic. What is this figure based upon? Defensive responses that the project is at an early stage only succeed in drawing attention to the fact that claims made on its behalf rest on nothing other than assertion.
Who are the investors who will make this project financially viable, how much money will they be putting in, and what exactly will they expect in return?
● A building is demanded, but its purpose remains to be worked out – an upside down project.
The 1851 and 1854 Crystal Palaces were devised for a specific purpose, namely housing the Great Exhibition. The proposed new Crystal Palace is being promoted as an end in itself, creating a problem of finding what goes into it. There is no equivalent of the Great Exhibition or other visionary proposal on the horizon. There is, instead, talk of the project being supported by a hotel, conference centre, leisure facilities, a museum etc.. Nothing has been offered which might put to rest suspicions that there is, in fact, a business plan and that the real objective is to construct a shopping mall to rival the £1 billion refurbishment of the Whitgift Centre in the adjacent borough of Croydon. ZhongRong’s website boasts proudly of its ZhongRong Tower in Shanghai, a huge office block and shopping mall. In terms of hard-headed business, the location in Crystal Palace Park may be purely opportunistic. Aside from the claim to be giving us back a major historic building, this attempt by a developer to snatch a chunk of a public park for a commercial development would appear in far less sympathetic terms. Indeed, after the failure of the late 1990s multiplex scheme Bromley had promised that no such project would ever be considered.
● This will not be an historically correct replica of the Crystal Palace.
The project has been publicised widely and has sought public support on the basis that it will be an exact replica of the 1854 Crystal Palace. Even if it were a faithful replica, of course, there is no way that the innovative building constructed by the hands of Victorian workmen under the watchful eye of Joseph Paxton, opened by Queen Victoria herself, and through which our forebears strolled – and for which reasons it was of such immense importance to us – can rise from the ashes. A lifetime ago, a tragic fire saw it reduced to scrap metal and rubble. It was lost forever. It has, in any case, now stated clearly that this new building will not be an exact replica and that it could well be significantly different. We are being offered a giant commercial complex on a public park, justified by packaging reminiscent of the Crystal-Palace.
● The problem of traffic chaos remains unresolved.
The scheme threatens significant disruption to traffic in adjacent boroughs. We have been promised that the problem will be resolved in a sensitive fashion, but it has yet to be demonstrated that any such solution exists. What are the full implications of this scheme for the boroughs of Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark?
● The role of Arup in this high-profile fiasco has been surprising.
Arup is a firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists with a well-earned international standing. Arup has genuine green credentials and its declared mission emphasises “designing nature into urban systems at all scales.” It is ridiculous that Bromley has hired this firm to both promote the scheme and to carry out simultaneously a supposedly unbiased consultation of public opinion. The fact that these two roles are mutually exclusive, the failure of those proposing the scheme to provide even a basic feasibility study/business plan, and the prospect of the scheme provoking widespread and vocal opposition in neighbouring boroughs (as with the multiplex proposed in the late 1990s) can only generate negative comments about Arup, detracting from its integrity and professionalism. We must ask whether Bromley has engaged with Arup and various other parties in order to hide behind their good names.
● This project is culpably irresponsible and incompetent.
The London Borough of Bromley had a fundamental duty to require a business plan and credible solutions to traffic issues before it pursued the plan. It appears to have been wholly negligent in this respect.
On the basis of the information presently available, Bromley’s narrative is simply not believable.
The Save the Hill Top Campaign is demanding that Bromley resolves these discrepancies forthwith.
If we do not receive a new and credible narrative within the next few days, we shall be justified in declaring this process to have been exposed as a disingenuous sales pitch – an insult to the intelligence of the general public whom local government is supposed to serve.
Please forward this email to as many of your friends and contacts as possible and write to your local ward councillor and to your MP requiring responses to the issues raised in this newsletter.
All the best, Happy Easter!
The Save the Hill Top Campaign
hosted by The Friends of Belair Park
article in the Apollo (2.4.2014) by Digby Warde-Aldam argues against the rebuilding of the Crystal Palace
Digby Warde-Aldam writing in the Apollo argues that reduplicating the Crystal Palace would be bizarre, pointless, and anachronistic:
I particularly love Warde-Aldam’s conclusion:
“the site on which it [the original Crystal Palace] stood is one of the most uniquely weird public spaces in Britain.
It’s got sphinxes and staircases that rise to an empty plateau, the one vacated by the Palace itself. It’s got the TV transmitter, London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. Hell, it’s even got anatomically incorrect dinosaurs. The park is truly unique, its landscaped anarchy made all the more exciting by the absence of a centrepiece. If any open space in London deserves to be preserved as it is, it’s this.”
Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard worries about some concerning tendencies of ‘starchitect’ projects in London
Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard (9.4.2014) worries about the plans for Battersea Power Station, and more broadly notes some concerning tendencies of ‘starchitect’ projects in London:
This is a copy of the press release sent out by ARUP on 25th February 2014:
Tuesday 25 February 2014
Renowned architects shortlisted to design The Crystal Palace
Six renowned architect practices offering a diverse range of approaches have been shortlisted in the next stage of the competition to select an architect to design The Crystal Palace as a new cultural destination for London in the spirit, scale and magnificence of the original.
Plans to invest £500 million in rebuilding The Crystal Palace and restoring the surrounding public park were announced in October 2013 by ZhongRong Group, with the support of the Mayor of London and the Bromley Council.
The new culture-led exhibition and employment space, which is set to create up to two thousand jobs and revitalise the local economy, will sit at the top of the 180-acre Crystal Palace Park in south London. It will incorporate the listed Italian style terraces, and other Victorian heritage within the park, fully restored for the public.
The selection panel for the competition to design this unique landmark project evaluated expressions of interest from almost 40 leading practices from across the world. The panel shortlisted the following six architects to prepare a more detailed submission and presentation:
Would you like to see open spaces in Penge improved? The Conservation Volunteers are working with Affinity Sutton to find out how their tenants and Penge residents would like to improve their open spaces small or large from community gardens, balconies, roof terraces to private gardens. Come along to one of our forthcoming events to tell us how these spaces could be improved, and how you would like to get involved. You might be keen to try your hand at growing your own food, creating spaces for wildlife, or receiving gardening training – let us know about it.
Wednesday 9th April 12pm to 2pm Free Herb Workshop - we’ll be learning how to grow and use herbs, and planting up a pot to take home at Anerley Town Hall, Anerley Road, SE20 8BD. This event is for adults only, please book by contacting Lizzy on 07740 899 689 or emailing email@example.com
Here is the pdf of their event flyer: Cultiv8 Penge Free Herb Growing Workshop Wednesday 9th April
Go to their website here: http://www.tcv.org.uk
New Statesman article on Crystal Palace shows major publications are beginning to interrogate this strangely under-the-radar issue
On Monday March 31st 2014, The New Statesman published this article decrying the proposed Crystal Palace as another bizarre Boris vanity project, and as a symbol of bygone empire days, which has poorly thought-out relevance to the 2014 residents of the local area…
Read it by following this link:
The Save Rosendale Surgery petition is here:
update from John Kissi regarding planning permission for Belair Park, Dulwich Park, and the SCST Sports Grounds.
Email from John Kissi
I am glad to inform you at about 12 midnight last night planning permission was granted for all 3 sites (Belair Park, Dulwich Park and the SCST Sports Grounds). I did like to take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution and engagement throughout the development of the project.
We hope we can continue to count on your support as we move to the construction phase.
We have planned a pre-construction consultation programme as follows;
Date: 2 April, 2014
Venue: Francis Peek Centre, Dulwich Park/SCST Pavilion
Time: Friends of Belair Park: 11:00 – 12:00
Dulwich Park Friends: 12:30 – 14:00
SCST:15:00 – 17:00
Date: 9 April, 2014
Venue: Francis Peek Centre, Dulwich Park
Time: Drop in session: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Presentation: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
I hope you can join us in these meetings and share your views.
Once again, thank you very much for your support and contribution.
#94: Friends of Belair Park report back from ARUP’s latest public presentation (at Dulwich Community Council Meeting – 19th March)
by Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park)
The Dulwich Community Council meeting on March 19, 2014 included both a presentation by Arup about the proposed development on the hill top section of Crystal Palace Park, and also a public discussion. Cllr Helen Hayes, who chaired the meeting, emphasised that there would be adequate time to hear everyone who wished to speak.
Structured surveillance training event
Venue: Brockwell Park and Hall, Lambeth
Date: Wed 16th April
Time: 13:00 – 16:00
[Please register by 28th March] TOMORROW!! THIS IS VERY LAST MINUTE – SORRY!!