Sian Berry, our candidate for Mayor of London and top candidate for the London Assembly elections in May 2016, came to visit Crystal Palace yesterday. She pledged support from City Hall and an end to top-down meddling for community groups with vision, energy and plans for Crystal Palace Park, the National Sports Centre, Upper Norwood Library, a neighbourhood forum, the Central Hill Estate, and the Crystal Palace Transition Town’s transport group.Sian was introduced to the local groups by our former candidate for Lewisham West & Penge, Tom Chance.
We began with Crystal Palace Park, talking to the Chair of the Community Stakeholder Group, Martin. He told Sian about their vision for the park, the ZhongRong Group fiasco, and the new plan to establish a community trust to govern the park.
Crystal Palace Greens strongly opposed the Boris/ZhongRong plans to build a massive hotel and conference centre on a wildlife-rich open space, and has long pushed Bromley Council and City Hall to back a community land trust to own and govern the park. Sian strongly endorsed this idea.
We then met with the John, Francis and Adam from the Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, who told Sian about City Hall’s botched consultation for the future of the National Sports Centre, and the threat to facilities used by amateur and elite athletes. Not many people realise that the national diving team train there, or that there was an international handball tournament there recently!
Sian pledged, whether elected Mayor or to the London Assembly, to help the local sports groups retain the facilities they need to keep Crystal Palace on the national sports map. She will also help them take a more central role in the plans and consultations, having had to fight to get round the table at City Hall under Boris Johnson.
Next, you can’t really come to Crystal Palace without pledging your support to Upper Norwood Library! A hardy group of passionate library users waited as we arrived, late, for Sian to pledge the backing of a unit she’d like to set-up at City Hall to support community trusts. Currently libraries are well outside the Mayor’s remit, but the Green Party believes the big strategic challenges facing London are only going to be tackled if we have strong local communities.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to stand around with these placards?!
We managed to squeeze in a very brief stop at Domali for a sandwich and coffee, talking to Robbie and Francis about their work trying to establish a Neighbourhood Forum for the five-borough area.
City Hall could be fantastically helpful to neighbourhood planning, if only the Mayor saw the value of local communities being given more of a say.
We then walked over to the Central Hill estate to meet residents campaigning for more control over the proposed regeneration of their homes.
The estate has some really clever architecture, setting well designed homes in beautiful greenery. There are lots of options here, including refurbishing most of the homes, building on un-used spaces and possible on top of some existing blocks, and using the money from private sales to finance the whole scheme.
We talked to residents and architects about these ideas, but also the familiar complaints about Lambeth Council’s appalling consultation process. Far from fully involving the residents in drawing up plans and exploring all the options, the council are firmly in the driving seat, running poor quality consultation processes and – up until quite recently – leaving residents entirely in the dark.
It can be horribly stressful going through a regeneration process, and Lambeth council have completely lost the trust of many of the residents. Clearly there is the potential to do something really positive with the estate, building more council homes in the process. But we’d like to see the council, and Gipsy Hill councillor Matthew Bennett who is in charge of it all, tear up the current process and put the local community in the driving seat.
As a reward for a long afternoon, we took Sian for a pint in the Grape & Grain to talk to the Transition Town’s transport group about road safety. We had the sad news of two collisions on the triangle in our minds, as well as the illegally high levels of air pollution we exposed last summer. There are clearly lots of problems with our streets, which are dominated by traffic from outside the area.
But Sian, Angus and Francis were full of bright ideas to improve our streets, bring the tram to Crystal Palace and join up the public transport to give people really good green transport options.
Reflecting on her visit, Sian said:
“I was really impressed by the community groups in Crystal Palace, who clearly have the ideas and energy to revitalise their park, library and housing estates. But I was struck by the frustration and anger with City Hall and councils which obstruct them and impose flawed top-down proposals that they have to fight off. I want to end this top-down culture, and instead make City Hall support community-led projects and plans all across London. If elected Mayor, you can be sure I wouldn’t try to dump a massive commercial building on your park or knock down your housing estate!
“A Green City Hall would stop secret negotiations about Crystal Palace Park and let the community trust take control of the park’s future, joined up with the fantastic sports groups working for a future for the National Sports Centre. We would set-up a team in City Hall to help communities trying to develop viable business models for community trusts, whether they run parks, libraries or housing estates, and work to persuade local councils to get behind their residents.
“As a transport campaigner, I also want to clean up the terrible air pollution around Crystal Palace. Greens in City Hall will continue to back residents with a vision of streets for people not just cars, where children can safely walk or cycle to school, and places like the triangle aren’t clogged with traffic that never stops to shop.”
Having thanked Sian for visiting, we were quickly reminded of the long history of Greens backing Crystal Palace. Here’s Darren Johnson way back in 2000!
— Darren Johnson AM (@DarrenJohnsonAM) November 6, 2015
Not to be left out, here is Sian with Darren and others in 2008:
Darren Johnson has been fantastically supportive of us over the years, and so we hope to see Sian in Crystal Palace more often, once elected Mayor or a London Assembly Member!