Position statement on Crystal Palace Park

Leading figures in the five Green Parties from the boroughs that border Crystal Palace have united to oppose the proposed development on Crystal Palace Park, signing a statement copied below. Local Green Party members and Darren Johnson, a Green Party Member of the London Assembly, met with twelve representatives from local park, residents, business, heritage, culture and environment groups to hear their views, before agreeing their united position.

To date, we have worked with local groups to get information from the Mayor of London, lobby him to improve the consultation process, and lobby Bromley Council about the land deal.

Statement of the Green Parties of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham on the ZhongRong Group proposals for Crystal Palace Park, April 2014

This is our position statement, signed by: John Street (Bromley), Tracey Hague (Croydon), Jonathan Bartley (Lambeth), Chantal Frances (Southwark) and Helen Thompson (Lewisham).

We believe any development in Crystal Palace Park must enhance its use as a park – for leisure, culture, sport and as a natural habitat – and be non-commercial, recycling any profits back into the upkeep of the park. The park should be improved incrementally, with sensitivity and led by the local community.

We support establishing a Community Land Trust, owned and controlled by local people from the five boroughs, which could then take ownership of the park and lead on proposals for the future of the park and the wider area. The Trust could build on the current masterplan for the park and work with the GLA and local councils to explore the potential for wider regeneration of the Crystal Palace area. This could explore whether there is potential for a large hotel and conference centre in the area, and any proposals could then be competitively tendered. It could also take forward ideas endorsed by the community in the park masterplan to build a better museum, and a botanical garden or butterfly house on the hill top.

We will oppose this new proposed development for the following reasons:

Scale and loss of green space – building a large hotel, conference centre and boutiques will inevitably take up a large part of the park and be too big for the area. When the original Crystal Palace was moved here the area was semi-rural and surrounded by green space. Today the park is surrounded by housing, so such a large loss of Grade II* heritage Metropolitan Open Land and Conservation Area to build a largely commercial development is unacceptable.

Local economy – it is likely that business rates and rents would rise substantially, chain stores would move into the area, and businesses would change their focus to serve tourists rather than residents, all of which would fundamentally change the character of this thriving centre of independent local businesses. Profits would return to overseas investors, rather than circulating in the local economy. There are brownfield sites in the area that could be developed in a more appropriate way to create more local jobs and businesses, and better ways to create a genuine cultural centre for the area.

Traffic and pollution – roads in the area are already congested and experience levels of air pollution that break legal health limits. This kind of development would inevitably draw in more road traffic, including lorries, and may further add to crowding on train services as tourists staying at the hotel travel into central London.

Biodiversity – this has largely been ignored by the developers, but the hill top hosts valuable habitats including hedgerows, scrub, wildflowers and woodland which are home to bats, insects, at least 27 species of local birds and 9 species of migratory birds. The proposed building would almost certainly involve the loss of or damage to most of these habitats.

Process – the proposal came about through a backroom deal between the developers, the GLA and Bromley Council, without a competitive tendering process. It disrupted the community-led, £7.5m plans to improve parts of the park, and has put many other community initiatives on hold. Bromley Council and the GLA have supported the plans before any work has been done on the likely impact, and without considering alternatives. The consultation process to date has been poor, the developers have not been transparent about their aims or intentions, nor the source of finance (which isn’t philanthropic) and it is clear that they aren’t willing to follow what the community wants – in the last masterplan exercise, it was clear that local people don’t want a large-scale commercial development, and would prefer the masterplan proposal of a small cultural, heritage or botanical facility on the hilltop to complement the open space and wildlife.

Privatisation of land – selling such a large area of public parkland on a 125 year lease is unacceptable, and Bromley Council have rejected the Green Party suggestion that the land be put into a Community Land Trust and then leased to the developer, which would be the only way to protect the interests of the wider community.

Inappropriate use – it is inconceivable that the developer wouldn’t have a firm idea of the building’s use at this stage in order to work out whether the project is viable, so we believe he has withheld this information from the public. Whatever the initial use of the building, the history of the original Crystal Palace and of more recent attractions like the Dome show that it will have to change over time to stay viable. We don’t think a large 6* hotel and conference centre is appropriate to begin with, and don’t trust Bromley Council to retain a genuine, publicly accessible cultural facility if the developer sought changes in future years to increase revenue and avoid a white elephant.