#92. THE STORY ARUP DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: Crystal Palace consultation – slick, stage-managed and short on answers.

posted by Nadia Mahmud-Salvisberg.

CP Notice about meeting

We urged you, the local residents, to come to the Crystal Palace re-development consultation as hosted by ARUP to voice your opinions and cross-examine ARUP for yourselves: We did this through our newsletter and we sent out press releases to local papers – who published the event in the Croydon and Streatham local Guardians, amongst others. And you came, in large numbers. In fact the small conference room in Crystal Palace Lodge was far too small for the turn-out – even though ARUP and Bromley must have known that the meeting would attract intense public interest.

ALL ARUP’S CRYSTAL PALACE WEBSITE WILL TELL YOU ABOUT THE MEETING IS:

“Visitors to Saturday’s drop-in event who enjoyed the history talks by Christopher Marsden of the Victoria and Albert Museum, might be interested in finding out more from the V & A’s website.”

. . . and it gives you a couple of  links to the V & A.

SO HERE’S AN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT OF WHAT REALLY HAPPENED.

CP Lodge venue of meeting

WHY DID ARUP CHOOSE SUCH A SMALL ROOM?

I arrived at at Crystal Palace Lodge at 12.45, as the first presentation was ending… to bump into London Assembly member Valerie Shawcross in the corridor. She warned me that the room was half the size that it should have been, that it was packed, with people left standing, and that loads of people were left outside (she tweeted on the subject). She added that ARUP had been destroyed in the questions and answer section, that they hadn’t been able to answer about 90% of the the questions and that they had skirted around the issues. On the issue of traffic they just hadn’t seemed to have done any real calculations or work.

CP queue in corridor

attendees queue in the corridor

Arup staff discuss project in Paxton Suite

Arup staff discuss the project in the Paxton Suite

I continued to the well-directed conference room, inside which a man was giving a talk, and outside of which many people were standing. There was another adjacent conference room – the Paxton Suite – in which attendees milled around chatting and asking ARUP staff members questions. Once inside the Paxton Suite, I discovered  a very large, coloured satellite-map projection of the proposed Park development on the wall, and on the left side of the room was a glass-domed architect’s model of how the proposed Crystal Palace might look if it were a fairly faithful replica of the Paxton’s original Victorian Crystal Palace. It turned out that there were no guarantees that it would be!  On the wall were also bar graphs of ARUP survey results, and relevant (and, needless to say, positive press cuttings – I did note that the more critical national Guardian article of October 2013 was missing).

CP Jerome Frost talks to meeting

Jerome Frost presents for ARUP

When finally the next ARUP presentation came around, I took my seat in the audience. Jerome Frost introduced himself as the presenter for ARUP, thanked us for our attendance, and joked that with the massive turnout next time he would be hosting in a stadium. Mike Warwick from the audience interjected – very vociferously – he said that the hall was far too small for the turn-out,  that he could think of several suitable and viable venues for the event off the top of his head, and that it was disrespectful to the local residents who gave up their time to turn-up. He added the the joke about Wembley Stadium was glib and disrespectful. Jerome Frost apologized. 

A QUESTIONABLE SURVEY – AND THE PROJECT IS RUSHING AHEAD ANYWAY.

Jerome Frost resumed his presentation for the proposed  development. Who is Mr Ni? the great question… a Chinese business man in real estate… with deep cultural interests. He outlined that Mr Ni’s daughters had both studied architecture at university and that the Crystal Palace was used as a case study on their architecture courses, and that they had studied it in great depth, which had led to a deep interest in the Crystal Palace. They had suggested to their father that he should rebuild the Crystal Palace. He then showed us bar graphs which depicted the outcome of the ARUP survey. The salient question asked whether local residents supported a new Crystal Palace (it turned out later that this had actually been omitted in the early forms). Another vital question was whether people wanted something that was a replica of the original Crystal Palace, or a modern re-imagining. The numbers,  we were told, were roughly split. He then showed us the shortlist of 6 architects, and urged us to go to their websites and check out their very different styles. He assured us that part of the stipulation for a successful architect would be that they who could engage with the local community as an ongoing process rather than one who went away and designed something in isolation. Jerome Frost also promised assembled local residents that one of the terms Bromley set for ZhongRong was that the environmental and recreational integrity of Crystal Palace Park would be both safeguarded and indeed a pivotal part of the development. Amongst ecological aspects to be respected were resident bats. He said it was his personal belief that if Crystal Palace Park did not work for the local community then it would not work at all. He showed a set of bullet points, the first claimed that Bromley had made an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for £4.5 million to contribute towards the park’s restoration (which would have attracted additional matched funding), and that this bid had been unsuccessful. He then said that due to this failure Bromley had to look elsewhere for funding. As I sat in the audience I thought this statement was extremely misleading. According to the letter circulated by Karl Richter, the application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to contribute towards park restoration has been refused as a direct consequence of the ZRG intervention. I knew that throughout the HLF bid process LB Bromley had indicated that there was a strong chance of the HLF bid being successful.  HLF had changed their mind, seeing that a massive commercial company was intending to plough £500 million into Crystal Palace. HLF understandably reasoned that this commercial company could restore the park as part of their proposal. I made a mental note to raise this issue in the Q & A session.

CP Jerome Frost

the meeting in progress

Q & A OPENED WITH A BOMBSHELL.

The first question was asked by Sue Nagle. She dropped a bombshell.  She claimed that Bromley council had been in discussion with architect Ray Hall, about his scheme to re-build the Crystal Palace.  This would have been during the time when, publically, Bromley had been promoting the masterplanfor the Park devised by Tilman Latz and Partners (officially unveiled 2007), which had featured a “tree palace” on the Hill Top.  The former London Development Agency had confirmed the reality of Hall’s business  backers (who otherwise did not wish to disclose their identities at that time). Mrs Nagle indicated that Hall had been dumped abruptly when Bromley entered into discussions with ZhongRong. If this is so, then Bromley has been astonishingly two-faced! Has everything that it has done over the last decade and a half, since the collapse for economic reasons of the detested multiplex scheme (the dialogue process, this masterplan and an earlier masterplan) been a distraction tactic to defuse protest, whilst leading Bromley officers and councillors have been working quietly behind the scenes on a new plan for a giant commercial enterprise on Metropolitan Open Land?

. . . BUT AN INDEPENDENT SURVEY NOW SHOWS 64% AGAINST THE SCHEME!

Martin Heath – my colleague – stood up, introduced himself as Chair of Friends of Belair Park and an Open Space campaigner. His first point was that consultations always give the people staging the consultation the results that they want. Dr Heath pointed out that there was now another consultation. This one had been  carried out by Southwark Councillors and it showed that nearly two thirds of people in wards adjoining Crystal Palace are against the scheme. He also harked back to the Original Masterplan, with mass of trees on the hill top – which, so Bromley had insisted at the time,  the overwhelming majority supported.  In neighbouring Southwark, one of the boroughs which could be hit hard by the scheme, opposition is hardening and councillors across the political spectrum are becoming concerned about the implications for local residents.

ARE PROMISED HERITAGE FEATURES JUST A FOOT IN THE DOOR?

Dr Heath then turned to financial realities. He referred to the discussions about the proposed multiplex of the 1990s. At this time, the tone of the discussions was that a commercial enterprise could only be viable if it included a massive leisure and retail complex.  Yes, it might start off with heritage and interest features, but these might well, as at Blue Water, be gradually de-emphasised or elimated altogether in response to economic pressures.

AT AN “EARLY STAGE” OR A FAIT ACCOMPLI?

Dr Heath’s final point was that the project was not at an early stage. In terms of arrangements with ZR – it wasn’t and they continued to draw closer ZhongRong legal terms. There was a Heads of Terms Agreement to be signed in April. A guy muttered in the back that a Heads of Terms was not a legal bond. That, however, did not change the fact that it was a milestone along the road of serious commitment, and that Bromley was eager to deepen that commitment as fast as posisble. ARUP and a Bromley spokesman re-assured us there was no problem because normal planning permission procedures would be followed. Not everyone was happy that planning procedures were a meaningful safeguard and  a document being circulated amongst attendees warned of major changes in planning laws to help developers ride roughshod over local protests. 

. . . BUT WHAT ABOUT CHANGE OF USE ONCE THE BUILDING’S UP?

A man asked about future safeguards for the land. What if ZhongRong wanted to change the land-use after 10 years? ARUP said that to change land-use planning permission is needed. Someone shouted out – “yes – but when when the building is failing – the council will feel they have no choice but to grant planning permission for change of land-use!” The next woman to ask a question said that she had been involved with Eden Project. ARUP had been the firm involved with the Eden Project. The Eden Project she claimed had been about ambition and aspiration. She hoped the Crystal Palace development would be ambitious and aspirational. The audience and ARUP concurred.

. . . WHAT, THAT’S IT? NO MORE QUESTIONS ALLOWED?

Just as the discussion was hotting up, an ARUP representative declared that that was all the time they had for questions.  I felt that this time had been extremely short given all the issues that needed to be explored. It was only now that the audience was really beginning to get engaged in the debate. So I voiced my opinion: “We want more time for open questions!” Mr Frost replied that we could ask ARUP representatives questions individually in the conference room next door. “What” I responded “so you can fob us off individually. We want more time for open questions.” I was pleased to hear the audience clap and cheer. Jerome Frost insisted that a speaker from the V&A had come to talk about Crystal Palace’s history, so questions had to end.  He continued that we could put it to the vote as to whether we continued the questions session or whether we listened to the talk.  He said that he felt it would be rude to keep the speaker waiting, and there just wasn’t any more time for questions. “Yes!” I retaliated, “but you planned it this way.” Jerome Frost was quickly ushered off the platform and another ARUP representative came on to introduce Christopher Marsden – the V & A expert. There followed a delightful, interesting and witty history of the Crystal Palace. And I thought this may well be a delight – but this thoughtful and interesting speech by this gentle man had clearly been planned to diffuse any anger. I felt manipulated. The whole thing had been so stage-managed. I felt ready to ask Jerome Frost to come and answer questions in a proper open debate, chaired independently. It is not acceptable for Jerome Frost to act as both chair and ARUP spokesperson. I felt really angry –  I and my fellow volunteers had spent so much time writing newsletters and writing press releases urging local people to come and ask questions that I felt that they had been denied that democratic opportunity.

HEADING OUTSIDE, I MET LOCAL PEOPLE – SOME WERE WORRIED, ANGRY AND DESPAIRING. 

Thanks to the crowded room, I was extremely hot by this time. I escaped outside to get some fresh air, and mingle. It was great to meet people – as a volunteer for Friends of Belair Park I correspond with lots of people through  my computer screen – so it’s really nice to meet some of these e-mail addresses. I had my Friends of Belair Park badge proudly displaying so people came and talked to me.

The Crystal Palace from Woodland Hill c.1920

The Crystal Palace from Woodland Hill c.1920

One lady who lived at the bottom of Woodland Hill showed me a postcard (above) which she had brought along….. and said isn’t it interesting that that’s how it looked in 1920, as she lived just there – she pointed with her finger – at the bottom of Woodland Road… that was a massive structure to have re-built behind her house. I felt that she wasn’t necessarily against it, but the sheer change, of having a colossal greenhouse towering above her was just a lot to get her head around. She asked me how long it would take to build? “They say 3 years… probably a bit more,” I replied. “oh, that’s a lot of building work,” she pondered. Other local people had more trenchant objections – Ronald Holder told me that just getting here he had been stuck in traffic for 15 minutes in Streatham Hill. The traffic system isn’t working now – how would it function with a massive tourist complex built in the Crystal Palace Park? As I headed out of the Lodge, and homeward, I bumped into an elderly Bromley resident coming out from the meeting. We started chatting and he said this is the second meeting for the ARUP consultation that was held in a place that was difficult to reach on foot, if you weren’t as physically agile as you used to be. He also said “I was going to write, but now having listened to them I wont bother cos they wont take any notice.”

CP Sphinx

I enjoyed the Crystal Palace parkscape on my way out

CP sunset

the sun setting was beautiful that evening in the Crystal Palace area, March 1st 2014

A call on ARUP to change the style of their presentations

I am still angry with ARUP. I ask them to make these changes to the way they host their presentations:

  • hold the next presentation in a room of a suitable size.
  • at the end of the ARUP presentation, there should be time for the audience to ask questions and this should be allowed to develop into a serious public debate.  The presentation by Christoper Marsden from the V & A was fascinating, but please do not use such events to truncate the time available for questions. There are more appropriate  times for these – perhaps even before the ARUP presentation, or on another day.

The Friends of Belair Park will be holding a public meeting  to debate the proposed Crystal Palace development. The meeting will be chaired so as to allow all parties to express themselves at adequate length. If possible, we would like to welcome a much wider section of the community than just our own members and we are discussing potential venues where we could allow the debate which ARUP feels unable to host.  We are talking with community bodies about the possibility of a suitable space being donated for a couple of hours.

ARUP and representatives of Bromley will be invited to participate.

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