#90: ZhongRong should show us the business plan so we can see the financial projections, along with many other important details.

The tragic loss of the much-loved original Crystal Palace in a fire in 1936 has drawn attention away from the fact that it was, by that time, an unsustainable economic failure.

London-Crystal-Palace-Destroyed-by-Fire-1936

It is disturbing that with Bromley just a few weeks away from signing over a huge chunk of the Park on a long-term lease to the ZhongRong Group, which seeks to re-build the Crystal Palace, that none of the following are in the public domain:

i) a detailed breakdown of contents and activities that the building will be designed to house (or a process of consultation that could credibly lead to community-agreed content within the available time-scale);

ii) a business plan developed with a financial consultant of international standing demonstrating that this expensive project will be economically viable and that it will probably re-cap its costs;

iii) an analysis demonstrating the capability of the proposed investors to support this project, given possible changes in China’s economic situation over coming years.

iii) an in-depth study conducted in partnership with the other boroughs meeting at Crystal Palace, demonstrating that potential problems with the volume of traffic, noise, numbers of visitors etc. will not impact in a negative fashion on the quality of life of local residents;

iv) credible guarantees that the emotive promotion of the building to local residents as the Crystal Palace rising from the ashes, is not, in reality, intended to provide justification for and to minimise opposition to an essentially commercial enterprise (such as a shopping centre to compete with Croydon’s  £ 1 billion re-furbished Whitgift centre) being constructed on Metropolitan Open Land.

We recognise that the concept of re-building the Crystal Palace, whilst rejected by many local people, is also attractive to many. Supporters of the scheme argue that because of its special history, the Metropolitan Open Land status of the Crystal Palace Hill Top should not obstruct the project. Assuming, for the purposes of argument that a re-build proceeded and that it truly re-captured the spirit of the Crystal Palace, we urge that this 21st C project be pursued with ecological awareness and that (at the very least) the area of the former caravan park (adjacent to the TV mast compound) should remain to be managed as woodland, hedgerow and clearing habitat and that this connects with enhanced woodland environment lower in the Park.

We advocate pursuing positive relations with China and friendship with Chinese nationals living in London. At the same time, we must not mute criticism of actions taken by the Chinese authorities against dissidents such as Xu Zhiyong, who have demanded transparency with regard to overseas assets. We shall support them by publicising their cause and by insisting that there is complete transparency about the sources of funding for and about the recipients of profits derived from the Crystal Palace project, should it proceed.

You can assist our campaign by copying this letter and distributing it to as many other interested parties as possible.

Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park).

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11 Comments

Filed under Crystal Palace

11 responses to “#90: ZhongRong should show us the business plan so we can see the financial projections, along with many other important details.

  1. barry milton

    Congratulations on your new attitude towards the proposed Crystal Palace project!
    Just a few days ago you were approvingly printing comments from those pushing the view that the proposal should never go ahead. You also appeared to be sailing close to the position that you would oppose the project on the grounds of human rights issues in China!
    Now you are waking up to the fact that a majority of local people may actually approve of the project and starting to deal with the real questions which need to be answered concerning viability, purpose, transport impact etc.
    Welcome to planet Earth.

    • How might I be waking up to the “fact” that a majority of people “may” approve of the plan? Are we talking about a fact, or a maybe, or is it a fact that it’s a maybe, or maybe it’s a maybe that it’s a fact.

      Having been involved in this situation for over one and a half decades, of course I know that many local people are interested in this proposal, although the lengthy dialogue process did not produce a majority in favour of a re-build. In the interests of objectivity, can you provide me with documentation to support your statement that a majority of locals support the project?

      new attitude towards the proposed Crystal Palace project“? I was holding up a hand of friendship, not holding up my hands in surrender! Please spare us such debating points. I have explained how, many years ago, I was asked to consider how a compromise between a building and ecology might work. I asked you, as a thought experiment, what you might feel, should the project go ahead, about retaining a wooded strip. I still await your reply. But,I’m entitled to be curious: if resistance really is futile and almost everyone wants to see this project go ahead, would those on your side of the debate be prepared to recognise your environmental responsibilities and let us have wooded patch? Assuming that the powers-that-be were agreeable, of course. The ball’s in your court.

      “Welcome to planet Earth”? I think that you mean Planet Sydenham. Planet Earth, I’m sorry to tell you, goes all the way round to China. That’s where we have to look if we are to get a broader perspective on the economic and political context. My colleagues and I make no apologies for our support for Chinese dissidents imprisoned for asking for more transparency in overseas assets. As with the apartheid struggle, pressure from the outside world will be essential in ensuring their safety and basic rights. If we refuse to look beyond Planet Sydenham at the hard realities of Planet Earth, it’s much easier to take the idea at face value that the offer of building a new Crystal Palace is an astonishing act of altruism by a very very nice man who just happens to have £400 million to spare (and who, in what may be the biggest pocket money settlement in human history, lovingly re-builds it after his daughter asked sweetly). I suppose that such really really nice things do happen occasionally on Planet Earth, but I prefer to keep my critical faculties engaged and better analysts than I will doubtless be looking at the business context. I note that some people (don’t worry this chain of thought doesn’t go as far as China) fear that Bromley might be using this scheme as a stalking horse for a shopping mall to rival that of Croydon’s £ 1 billion re-furbished Whitgift Centre.Again, I leave that to business analysts.

      I feel that if this correspondence is to continue that the next step should be your provision of whatever survey information you are quoting in support of the statement that a majority of local people support this scheme.

      Martin Heath (Chair, Friends of Belair Park).

  2. barry milton

    Martin – you are correct that we shouldn’t make statements unless they are evidence-based.
    Which is why I’m surprised that you make the statement that “Bromley might be using this scheme as a stalking horse for a shopping mall to rival that of Croydon’s £ 1 billion re-furbished Whitgift Centre.” Surely, this is just flinging around unsubstantiated facts to undermine the project. All of the public meetings to date have made it absolutely clear that this isn’t a shopping mall. Where’s your evidence to the contrary?
    And again, your disbelief that altruism isn’t a factor in this project. There’s plenty of evidence from history (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Bill Gates, Sammy Ofer to name just a few) of altruism leading to good public works. Where’s your evidence that this isn’t the case here? (Incidentally, it clearly isn’t an entire act of altruism since there’s been no attempt to hide the fact that the project will be part-funded perhaps by a hotel on site). Bill Gates has given $28 billion to his foundation. A tiny fraction of this amount is required to construct this project.
    The evidence to back my statement “that a majority of people may actually support the project” is based on completed questionnaires to date, public meetings where there has been very little opposition to what’s proposed, yesterday’s stakeholder’s meeting which broadly supported the proposal and the sounding out of the all important local authority members.This simply isn’t another multiplex – local people are sympathetic, even enthusiastic about the proposal pending more information. And all the political ducks (government, local authority and London Mayor) are this time lined up in a row.
    Incidentally, I’m still mystified about your attitude to this project in relation to China. Are you actually saying that even if this project fulfils all local aspirations and concerns, you are going to oppose it because of China’s human rights record? Great admiration for your principles – but in reality is this going to amount to much more than unfurling a couple of banners outside Bromley Council chamber on the night of the planning committee meeting?
    I’m not trying to insult you. Merely pointing out that your position on this proposal has changed in line with a slow realisation that this simply isn’t a proposal like the multiplex project.
    Best wishes.

    • Dear Barry, It is the role of the Friends of Belair Park to interrogate and ask questions; and in the case of the proposed Crystal Palace development – we are asking questions on all fronts, from the legality of selling open public space, to the desirability of the proposal generally, and on the other end of the spectrum the nitty gritty of ZhongRong’s business plan – financial projections and proposals for transport infrastructure. ARUP may well have conducted their own survey of public opinion, however Friends believe it is important to have an independent body to provide a voice for public opinion. The local residents of Crystal Palace MUST ask questions! when a piece of public land as important as the Hill Top section of Crystal Palace is just about to be sold to a commercial company for a period of 125 years – then anyone who doesn’t ask serious and probing questions is a fool. At the moment there is nothing to prevent Mr Ni from changing the land-use after a period of say 10 years to something more commercial. Of the large group of people who are pro the re-building of Crystal Palace in principle – many of these people have serious concerns and questions about HOW it is being gone about, that is about the details of the business plan, which to date seem strangely secretive?? Regards, Nadia (volunteer at Friends of Belair Park)

    • Hi Barry,

      Caution and awareness of unpleasant possibilities is advisable in a wide range of situations in life. The person who comes to the door really may have come to read the meter, but until they can satisfy you that that is the case, you don’t let them in. You don’t have to be able to prove that the worst possibilities are well-founded before being cautious!

      Martin Heath.

  3. Barry Milton

    Who on earth has said that this matter shouldn’t be interrogated fully? Merely pointing out that the attitude of the Friends towards this project seems to have undergone a considerable sea change.

    Just clarify for me. Are you actually saying that even if this project fulfils all local aspirations and concerns, you are going to oppose it because of China’s human rights record?

    What’s the point of checking whether the project is viable if you intend to never let it happen?

    Or in Martin’s terms – what’s the point of checking your gas reader’s ID if you never intend to let him/her into the house in any case?

    • Dear Barry,

      Sorry I didn’t get back to you in full the other day.

      Okay, well to be fair my pouncing on the discrepancy between the words “fact” and “may” was a debating point, and you scored one back by pointing out that our fear that a new Crystal Palace would become shopping mall to rival the re-furbished Whitgift Centre was not established as fact either.

      I can assure you, however, that this idea is a genuine fear, not a rumour invented as a campaigning tool.

      To return from the debating points to the substantive arguments, I think that the shopping mall concern is fully justified as a fear, and that, were that the plan, we would probably only have irrefutable evidence by the time that it was too late to do anything about it.

      Concerns about Chinese investment range from the practical to the ethical.

      Economists are uncertain about what will happen in China, but a huge credit crunch, with Chinese companies unable to fulfil their obligations is a serious worry.

      To complicate matters, in addition to the upfront banking system, there is a “shadow” banking system, which economists cannot follow. We do not know who owes how much to whom.

      Again, there is a culture in China of developers pulling strings with government officials so that they can both benefit from throwing up buildings, a significant proportion of which turn out to be white elephants.

      An investigation by the Guardian revealed that certain large Chinese companies are linked in chains to smaller companies whose purpose remains obscure. They stressed that they had no evidence for wrong-doing, but that the existence of the smaller companies whose function was not immediately obvious raised serious questions about what was going on.

      Whilst the Chinese government is ostensibly cracking down on corruption, its officials are eagerly transferring assets abroad. China has been quick to accuse its critics of tax fraud, but the outside world remains sceptical. Xu Zhiyong, who has requested that officials disclose their overseas assets, has, as a result, has been imprisoned for four years (on a charge related to gathering a crowd – for what in Britain would be regarded as a small and mild demonstration). This man, I feel, is an example of real and astonishing philanthropy at work.

      Eager though our government may be right now to establish trade with China, and eager though some may be to accept that money to re-build a Crystal Palace will be coming from a philantropist (you quote some examples, I could quote others), the question of who would be pulling the strings on the Chinese side of this investment and in response to what economic needs or greeds could be very difficult to penetrate. The Chinese government is an investor in ZhongRong, so here’s a can of worms.

      Should this (or any) project be stopped because of human rights abuses in China? That’s not an easy question, so I won’t give you a glib answer. Trade means economic well-being for the global community and contact with China assists the progress of democracy there – so long as we make our concerns known. I think that at the very least, we should make it clear that we as free people enjoying the rights of a free country do have concerns. If the Chinese government is allowed to feel that nobody outside China really cares about those who stand up for rights and then suffer imprisonment or simply disappear, it will carry on intimidating them. Another question that occurs to me is whether an individual (such as the alleged Crystal-Palace-loving philanthropist) should be penalised for the misdeeds of the nation into which they happen to have been born. On that question, my sense of fairness suggests not. Over to the politicians, lawyers and the moral philosophers!

      At least, unlike previous talk of a re-build (again with important details missing), there is a backer with a face.

      There is a rather odd aspect to this process. One might have expected a serious businessman to have done his homework, recognised that the Sydenham Crystal Palace had blundered on for years from one financial disaster to another and that traffic concerns were a major factor in sinking the previous multiplex project. One might have expected that Bromley and the Mayor of London would have demanded that a credible detailed business plan resolving these problems in a definitive fashion be part and parcel of this proposal – and refuse to look at it if it were not. Yet, here we are, weeks away from Bromley handing over the upper part of the Park to ZhiongRong on a 125 year lease and these essential details have not emerged. You are talking about a possible hotel function for part of the structure, I a shopping mall – there should be no room for these speculations, although we might have been debating the pros and cons of solid proposals. This is either unbusiness-like (no grounds to support the re-build), or the public is not being shown the real game plan (no grounds to support the re-build).

      As regards surveys, we may have some news soon. I do not dispute that there is widespread interest in this project, but I believe that comparable numbers are opposed. At best, we have a deeply divided community.

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

  4. Amanda S

    Dear Martin and co,

    I am delighted to see some organised resistance to this proposal and am glad to see a campaign emerging at last.Also good to read that this is not anti development per se.

    The ZRG proposal is preposterous. A complex of this size, 0.5 kilometres long, 50 meters high and set over five floors will dominate not just the park but the surrounding neighbourhoods and skyline. The infrastructure demands of the museum aspect alone could attract 5M visitors a year http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23050586

    How are the millions of visitors going to get here when the current transport system and roads have, according to TFL, reached saturation point at peak times? You can’t just pop an extra 25,000 people, per day every day, into the local travel plan without serious and damaging consequences for quality of life.

    What is clear the promised investment for the upper park is to enhance the views from the ZRG but this comes at a price for the NSC. In order to support the building over the entire hill top, the outside sporting areas
    car parks and access roads that serve the NSC and park will be removed. For users this means no more
    .outdoor hockey being played at all in the Park.

    .eleven a side or seven a side football on a 3G surface in the Park.

    tennis at all being played in the Park.

    .netball being played in the Park.No outdoor Synthetic Turf Pitch (STP) at all being available for the use of any other sport or practice.

    .multi-use games areas (MUGAs) or other formal sports areas being available

    · swimming and diving facilities, balcony sports hall and spectator provision within the NSC.

    sports injury clinic.

    It also means all users and deliveries to the centre will have to find a space in the ZRG car park. In other words regional sports facilities are to minimised to maximise a private investors vanity project.

    The ZRG proposal is not going to be a rebuild of Paxton’s Crystal Palace. It is a proposal to build the largest trade and leisure complex in the UK on a strategic section of MoL, where Paxton’s palace once stood. I would like to know how it has been valued as a piece of land that size in SE19 would be worth, at current prices, hundreds of millions of £££££ were it turned into real estate.

    I gather Mr Ni wants the land for next to nothing so he can ‘invest’ his hundreds of millions in his trading complex. And this is been sold to us as a ‘gift’ from a benevolent tycoon.

    The rebuild claim is more cynical PR to appeal to people’s romantic, patriotic notions of a great Britain’s unique design admired world wide for being the first of its kind. It has since been copied world wide.

    Amanda

  5. Hal Jones

    Breaking news…alternative proposal leaked for redeveloping the Crystal Palace in HYDE PARK…

    Dear Mr Boris Johnson

    May we introduce our company, the RongEgen Corporation, and our proposals for your consideration. We are real estate developers and oil prospectors and we turn over billions of dollars with enormous profits which we need to invest. 

    We have always been admirers of your London and its history and we are now happy to be in a position to help you bring some of your once famous, now derelict / abandoned attractions, back to life. 

    Priority for us is to rebuild the world famous Crystal Palace, at its original home in Hyde Park.Hyde Park is so beautiful and has so much potential and we find it amazing the site has been left as ‘grass’ plus a few ‘tennis’ courts for so many years.

    We propose the new palace will be a global cultural attraction. We’re not sure what the cultural ‘element’ will be but we know there will be a hotel, conference facilities, shops and eateries etc. It is naturally a requirement that it is a commercial success. In this vein our lease will need to cover up to half of Hyde park. We will of course refurbish these areas in return for control of the commercial possibilities. 

    To win the hearts and minds of the stakeholders we propose to:

    1) appoint a global firm which specialises in structural engineering to be the face and contact point of the project development. This will help give the impression the project has strong foundations.

    2) arrange a ‘community engagement process’ where we’ll give out questionnaires with questions such as “would you like to see a viewing platform in the building”. The building will be enormous so we have opportunity to include lots of things to keep the locals happy.

    3) arrange a ‘starchitects’ design competition, even if we are not sure about the cultural function, we’ll allocate some space for this. We’ll make sure they make it look whizzy so we can secure approvals and then decide how it works later.

    We hope you are excited by our proposal to bring this significant investment to your city. We look forward to hearing from you and to discuss this further in private 😉

    Yours faithfully

    Xxx

    PS we will need to secure a long term lease on the park before revealing our proposals. OK? Great 😉

  6. Thanks for that Hal, you really made me laugh. Nadia, volunteer@FOBP

  7. Hal Jones

    Nadia
    The first draft I wrote I exaggerated everything but then realized its all so ridiculous that it doesn’t need (much) exaggeration.
    Funny but worrying.
    Hal

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