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…
● Does Mr Ni have sufficient assets to undertake this project?
Forbes 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.
One estimate of the cost of the Crystal Palace Park development is £500 million. If this project were coming out of Mr Ni’s own resources, he would – if he has only the net worth valued by Forbes – 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 appear to be irrelevant – even if he were prepared, quite literally, to give us the shirt off his back.
● If, as it appears, Mr Ni would not be able to pay for this project by himself, we are obliged to ask the following questions: who are the investors who will make this project financially viable, how much money will they be putting in and exactly what will they expect in return?
Setting aside the childish assertion that Mr Ni is so wealthy that he does not need a foreseeable return for his input, we must ask whether the failure to demonstrate 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 means that the backers do not want to reveal too much about their objectives at this time. We must ask whether the insistence that our Park is the only possible site for a new Crystal Palace, is really based on Mr Ni’s historical nostalgia, or whether this is simply an opportunistic excuse to snatch a slice of public park for commercial development.
● 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 been stated 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.
● Is the real objective to construct a shopping mall to rival the £1 billion refurbishment of the Whitfield 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. (do check out ZhongRong’s website for yourself www.en.china-zrg.com it is interesting reading)
● Hiding a bad project behind Arup’s good name?
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 this firm was to promote the scheme, whilst, at the same time, it is supposed to be carrying out an unbiased consultation of public opinion. The fact that these two roles are mutually exclusive, unanswered questions about what the proponents are aiming for, how they intend to finance it 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’s motives, detracting from its integrity and professionalism. Leaving aside arguments about precise percentages, it is clear that a substantial chunk of the community objects strongly to the scheme. At the very best, this project will create a deeply divided community and opposition will become ever more vocal and determined as the scheme proceeds. Arup has been handed a poison chalice.
The Save the Hill Top Campaign is throwing down the gauntlet. We invite Bromley to respond forthwith, proving that Mr Ni is to able finance this project out of his own pocket.
Above all, whatever the complex history of the Hill Top, it has not had a building upon it for a lifetime. Today it is Metropolitan Open Land in a public park. It is the appropriate place for everyone to be able to enjoy green open space and nature. MOL is an agreed compromise between the built environment, which we all need, and the green environment, which we need no less. As the built environment becomes denser, parks are becoming ever more essential for the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of Londoners. Parks are not, as would-be developers would like to persuade us, dead land that we cannot afford, but rather, by promoting the health and happiness of the community, parks are making an essential contribution to the economy. Hands off our parks! They’re doing a good job!
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, and Happy Easter!
The Save the Hill Top Campaign
hosted by The Friends of Belair Park