#88: Avoiding misunderstandings about our campaign.

The overwhelming majority of people who have responded to our newsletters have supported our campaign against the decision of Bromley Council to hand over the Hill Top section of Crystal Palace Park to a massive commercial development by the ZhongRong Group (ZRG). They have not misunderstood our campaign as being motivated either by xenophobia, knee-jerk anti-capitalism, or some unlikely cross-political combination of both.

In contrast to the many expressions of support, however, we have received a very short and intemperate email submitted as a post for our website, which used the words “racist,” “little Englanders,” and asserted China’s “rightful place in the world.”

I suppose that we could have ignored this as the work of a troll. It seemed ironic, however, that we, as campaigners for free speech should resort so quickly to censorship. I thought that I might instead acknowledge the email by transforming it into a catalyst for saying something positive and building bridges.

My fellow campaigners and I welcome deepening relations, including the expansion of business links, between Britain and China. I write with admiration for the notable technological advances presently emerging from China. Eco-campaigners must recognise that whilst China’s programme of building coal-fired power stations adds both CO2 and pollutants to the atmosphere, with China as the world’s largest COemitter, that China also leads the world in the installation of solar panels. With its Shenzou space programme, China became the third nation to launch its citizens into space, and its Jade Rabbit rover, rolling across the stark landscape of our Moon, has been a spectacular success, cheered on the world over.

This is not about nationalism, and in the interests of even-handedness, one must deplore the historic indignities inflicted on China by the British during the 19thC Opium Wars (still greatly resented in China), which Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), denounced as “a national sin of the greatest possible magnitude” and William Gladstone (1809-1898) as“calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace”. Today, most people in Britain would probably echo these sentiments.

This is not about ethnicity. The Chinese people, our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, have an immense contribution to make to the future of the human race, both down here on this world and in exploring other worlds. I believe that a free society will best nurture that contribution. I am humbled by the courage of those Chinese citizens who suffer persecution for their non-violent efforts on behalf of that cause. China’s rightful place in the world is as a free country.

This is certainly not about reviling the entire corporate world, and our association is indebted to corporate enterprises for their generous support for our activities in enhancing wildlife corridors.

We do object, however, to a plan to build on a public park being used by some in the political and business community as the chosen vehicle to promote relations with China. As an exercise in international diplomacy this was amateurish and inept. The last time that an attempt was made to put a massive development on the Hill Top (by British developers), it sparked a massive protest. It is also unfortunate that China has chosen, at this time, to imprison dissident Xu Zhiyong (born in Henan Province, not “little England”), who requested that Chinese officials be accountable for money that they are busy transferring overseas. The Chinese government is an investor in the ZRG, which seeks to build on Crystal Palace Park. This raises inevitable questions about transparency and about whose money will be involved in the project – which brings the abuse of Chinese dissidents to our doorstep as a humanitarian issue that we, as compassionate men and women (whose awareness is global and not  confined by “little England”) have a duty not to ignore. Add to this the London Borough of Bromley’s broken promise after the multiplex campaign, that no such commercial building would ever rise on the Hill Top section of the Park and the Mayor of London’s powers to push through planning applications whether local people like them or not and ZhiongRong, far from enjoying British hospitality, is being set up by its supposed allies as an inevitable target for resentment.

Bromley is set to sign a deal with ZRG on April 2, 2014. There is no time for a serious investigation of the impact of this proposed development on the neighbourhood (including four other boroughs), for example, through a substantial increase in traffic, nor to explore ecologically less damaging options. That, of course, has given added urgency and intensity to our campaign, where unrushed and genuine  consultation might have enabled us to speak with softer words.

Inviting Chinese companies to join a feeding frenzy of asset-stripping with Crystal Palace Park on the menu is not a mature and statesman-like way to pursue Anglo-Chinese relations.

I ask the political establishment to act responsibly and, at the very least, to apply the brakes to this process. This would allow all parties to re-configure and, giving all due weight to the interests of relations between China and Britain, to consider the most appropriate and mutually beneficial way forwards. I appeal for political leadership and statesmanship.

Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park).



Filed under Crystal Palace

4 responses to “#88: Avoiding misunderstandings about our campaign.

  1. The Gentleman doth protest too much, methinks….
    “……Inviting Chinese companies to join a feeding frenzy of asset-stripping with Crystal Palace Park on the menu is not a mature and statesman-like way to pursue Anglo-Chinese relations….” That statement is for sure not a mature and statesmanlike way to describe the issues here.
    Let us have more facts and fewer emotions. Is this a good proposal or is it not? If not, why not? Can we please leave the politics of China out of Belair and Crystal Palace Parks, and face the actual issues here.
    A blanket appeal to the issue of Metropolitan Open Land is really not good enough. Crystal Palace Park was specifically created by our ancestors to house a huge “Palace” of industry, culture, education and art, disastrously lost 70+ years ago. For sure there was plenty of open land in the park, but for sure it was all man-made.
    Do we now think that that original vision was all wicked and a rape of nature ( apparently the land was “,,excised from Penge Common…”), built on the backs of the oppressed downtrodden under-classes of Britain and the Empire? Or was it a wonderful vision of a way forward?
    And what about any proposal to recreate that original vision? Is its time past, and we no longer need such visions? Maybe the park should revert back to being Penge Common?
    Let us indeed have a mature and statesmanlike discussion of the issues. I await it hopefully.

  2. I feel that this writer’s debating style relies too much on putting words into the mouths of those with whom he has taken issue, then caricaturing opinions that they have not expressed, gleefully setting up straw man arguments and knocking them down. I feel that he is responding to styereotypes of what he assumes to be left-wing eco-protestors, rather than to the actual history of the debate. I have actually participated in a long-term dialogue whose stated purpose was to create an integrated solution to the management of Crystal Palace Park, which would have included conservation of the historical features such as the sphinxes, terraces, historic subway and dinosaurs. The views that I put forward during this dialogue, that whatever solution were to be adopted, there must be space for wildlife, was agreed to by almost everyone who participated. This correspondent’s comments are inaccurate, but, as the saying goes, although I may disagree with this man but I will fight to the death for him to express his opinions.
    Finally he castigates me for not being mature and statesman-like – but please note, I am a campaigner, not an elder statesman – the job descriptions differ!

  3. barry milton

    But William does have a point doesn’t he. We need to judge this proposal on its merits and whether it’s a good thing for the area or not.
    The idea of a multiplex cinema on this site was rightly opposed and defeated. But this new proposal (although it has some distance to go) appears quite different.
    I believe that the overwhelming majority of locals will support building on the site providing the building is high quality and used primarily as an exhibition space, as proposed. The early results of consultations seem to bear this out. I don’t believe either that the majority of locals will reject its part-use as a hotel, if this helps to underwrite the primary use of the site.
    In the 40 years I’ve lived in Sydenham, locals have told me that it would be wonderful to see the Crystal Palace rebuilt as a palace of culture – now’s our chance to do just that.
    I’m going to be the first to oppose this if it turns out to be a shopping mall – but there’s not the slightest indication to date that that’s what is envisaged – quite the opposite, in fact.
    Wanting the site to remain empty is a viewpoint – but it’s not one that will be supported by the majority of locals if what has been unveiled already about this new project comes to fruition.
    The politics of China simply isn’t an issue here. What’s right or wrong with the proposal is what we need to concentrate on.

    • Hi Barry,

      You make some very good points here! Also, whilst I disagree with William Hamilton, to be fair, he too makes some good points.

      I chaired a number of meetings back when Bromley was attempting to push the multiplex plan through. The Crystal Palace Campaign also staged a consultation. The idea of preserving open space and wildlife on the Hill Top several times received support from over three quarters of those participating. Likewise, at the Crystal Palace dialogue process, which included participants of many opinions, the idea that space for ecology on the Hill Top should be available in all options, was adopted enthusiastically by almost everyone. At one meeting I ran (back at the multiplex protest), three quarters of those present felt that if they had to have a building, then a Crystal Palace would be the building that they wanted.

      Don’t, please misunderstand the way in which my colleagues and I work. We will not initiate or advocate compromise about green open space, but we do recognise that we are part of a broader process. If the community, with its many stakeholders, decides that a compromise is necessary, then we address the new circumstances and attempt to maximise green space and ecology accordingly.

      It may surprise you to know that many years ago, I was invited by one of the people in the Crystal Palace Campaign to come up with a compromise for the Hill Top that involved a building (just in case building was unavoidable). One of the options that I discussed was a Crystal Palace-style structure, with woodland and wildlflowers sweeping around it from the area of the former caravan park (next to the TV mast compound). What would you and your neighbours feel about that idea in the present context? This proposal (whilst actually quite popular) caused confusion for some people. I thought that it might be best in future to stick with being a straight-forward advocate for green space (but some people now misunderstand that as a call for airy-fairy idealism come what may). Some days, one feels, one just can’t win!

      As regards the functions of the building, and the question of whther they might change once the projcet gets the go-ahead, I am cynical. I believe that a broader consultation is necessary. I’ve seen a number of consultations, and they routinely show that everyone loves whatever it is that the powers-that-be intend to do anyway! Meanwhile, those who are getting the outcome that they want, see the process as fair and represntative, whilst everyone else perceives a flawed process. Both sides claim that the majority of people that they talk to support their position.

      My feeling, from the comments that I have been receiving is that whilst some will embrace the proposals, a significant proportion of people will not and will remain angry.

      My colleagues and I disagree that the politics of China are not relevant. They are relevant because:

      1) The economic state of China and the possibility that it will be hit by a major credit crunch (experts differ) could have a major influence in deciding whether this proposal goes ahead.

      2) The Crystal Palace would be an overseas asset for a Chinese company (ZhongRong), the Chinese government invests in Zhong Rong and people are being imprisoned for requesting that government officials declare assets that they are quickly transferring abroad. This, for us, is a bang-dead-to-rights ethical trading issue.

      3) We see a rather arbitrary process at this end, and have asked how ZhiongRong’s expectations might be conditioned by their culture back home. Our concerns were confirmed by the programme “How China Fooled the World” with Robert Preston on BBC2 a couple of nights ago. Basically, thanks to connivance from local officials, developers get what they want and hard luck if the building, once up, turns out to be white elephant. As with apartheid South Africa, the pressure of opinion from outside the country will be necessary in bringing about change.

      Please do keep in contact.

      Best wishes, Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park).

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