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.
I opened my questions by explaining how deeply betrayed my colleagues and I felt about Bromley’s about-face. We had been promised that a huge development had been ruled out, that trees would crown the hill top, and, at one point, we had even been talking to Bromley officers about the possibility of securing corporate support for the creation of a nature trail on the fenced-off former caravan area, next to the TV mast.
THERE HAD BEEN NO INQUIRY INTO WHETHER THERE WERE OTHER – POSSIBLY BETTER – SITES IN LONDON FOR THE DEVELOPMENT?
I asked whether, before selecting a public park as the site of this commercial development, a study had been carried out to ascertain that this was the best possible (or only possible) site in London. Another site might offer better transport connections, it could be more financially successful and provide far more jobs.
I was told that Mr Ni had insisted on the site in the Park, because that was where the 1854 Crystal Palace had been built. In other words, this is a whim not a hard-headed business decision.
STILL NO BUSINESS PLAN??
It became clear that there was still no business plan demonstrating the viability of the project on this site and that whilst there were reassurances that the huge traffic problems would be resolved in a sensitive way, that there were, as yet, no actual answers.
It is remarkable – indeed culpable – that the London Borough of Bromley had not required a business plan and transport plan to be presented before this project were even looked at. The hope that answers will emerge as the project (described, rather defensively, I feel, as presently at an early stage), continues to develop, turns responsible business practice on its head.
Believers in this scheme continue to assert that Mr Ni is a philanthropist who seeks no immediate return for his money and who is rich enough to ensure that the project will work regardless of practicalities or economic climate.
Having met a multi-millionaire who had actually renounced his mansions, yacht, cars and personal jet to live in a trailer park and work for the benefit of others, I do not doubt for a minute the existence of goodness in the world. One does wonder, however, whether a person who is consumed with a desire to re-build the Crystal Palace might be more accurately described as an “enthusiast” rather than a “philanthropist.”
RE-ENFORCING THE TRAFFIC INFRASTRUCTURE WOULD REQUIRE EVEN MORE LOCAL SACRIFICES!! – precious woodland and residents’ houses!!
I was not surprised to hear one councillor on the panel ask whether the old Crystal Palace High Level station (once located on the opposite side of Crystal Palace Parade) might be re-instated. A lot of homes would have to go and the railway line that ran up through what is now the Horniman Nature Trail and Sydenham Hill Wood would have to be restored with loss of these tranquil havens for urban wildlife. Many people consider this idea impractical, but, feasible or not, it is precisely where we arrive once we take the necessity of providing transport links for the proposed monster development to its logical conclusion.
I warned the meeting that were this idea to be included in the package that the public uproar would be immense.
ATTENDEES HAVE STRONG OPINIONS
Others argued that the needs of the area had changed since 1854 and that green space was now of vital importance. Some accused Arup of cynical calculation in having staged successive consultation meetings in rooms that were too small.
After this section of the meeting, there were animated discussions in the lobby and requests, both polite and angry, that people keep their voices down. I took the opportunity to inform Arup (who say that a significant proportion of people would favour a smaller development) that whilst not endorsing commercial developments on Metropolitan Open Land, we would be open to discussing how, if we had no choice but to have a building, we would like to preserve the incipient woodland beside the TV mast and important adjacent scrub habitats – consistent with the claim that a significant proportion of those consulted favour a smaller building.