Bromley Unitary Development Plan

Proof of Philip Kolvin

Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Campaign

Section 17

I am inclined to think that the Crystal Palace gardens do more to encourage a taste for gardening and a love of flowers among the lower classes than even the London parks.

Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardens, 1871.


Top site designation (0296O, 0296V, 0297O).


Before reaching the current arguments, it is worthwhile summarizing the history of the MOL designation of the top site.


The concept of MOL originated in the Greater London Development Plan in 1976. Areas to be designated were shown diagrammatically on the Key and Urban Landscape Diagrams. That included Crystal Palace Park. Individual boroughs were left to set precise boundaries in Borough Plans.


In the Proposals Map to the Bromley Borough Plan Amended Written Statement of September 1983, the whole Park was shown as Metropolitan Open Land. The Plan was adopted in September 1985. The policy created a regime of essentially Green Belt control for MOL. As far as the Park was concerned, it stated:

"This land occupies a prominent position and contains the National Sports Centre. The upper terraces and frontages to Crystal Palace Parade require urgent attention, and the Council will support the restoration of these terraces and the conservation of the pedestrian tunnel."


At that time, of course, Bromley did not own the land, and there were no development proposals for the top site.


By 1994, there was permission for an hotel development, and RPG3 had elevated MOL land to Green Belt status. Bromley was advised by the old DoE to retain the MOL standing of the site, but to reflect the fact that there was a planning permission for a large development as a proposal.[115] The protection accorded to MOL was contained in policy G6. The top site was washed over in an MOL designation. Meanwhile, in the Schedule of Proposals, the top site was designated for mixed use: "Hotel, leisure centre and associated facilities (outline planning permission exists)." The developer was stated to be Bromley itself and a private developer. The justification was said to be "to provide appropriate hotel and leisure facilities, to meet growing demand and to improve the park's amenities."


In fact, history has shown that there is no market demand for an hotel there or substantial built leisure facilities, and the amenities of a park are rarely improved by placing town centre uses on them.


In any event, the present position is that the planning permission, which was the justification for the site proposal, is now defunct. Given that the entire thinking of Green Belt designation is that Green Belt boundaries should be altered only very exceptionally, the logical course is now to remove the site proposal but leave the MOL designation intact.


In fact, Bromley have chosen to take the diametrically opposite course. The UDP proposal is to term the site "Disused Land", and to designate it to "provide leisure and recreational development, with associated food and drink premises, in conjunction with the existing bus station."


Leaving aside all the arguments about proper designation of the site, the notion that the site of one of the most loved and influential buildings ever constructed, in one of our greatest historic parks, should take as its reference point "the existing bus station" indicates a wanton failure of imagination, a lack of understanding of the sensitivities of, and opportunities afforded by, the site, and the profound concern felt by local people about its future. It also serves to pre-empt all proper debate about sustainable regeneration of this historic asset. I have spoken to Bromley officers and councillors about this designation. None has attempted to defend it. But they do say that it gives flexibility as to the future handling of the site. That might be said about any protected site. The purpose of the Plan's policy is to give appropriate protection, not to remove appropriate protection to facilitate development.


In its reasoned response, Bromley states that MOL was proposed to be removed because the multiplex scheme would not have contributed to the openness of the MOL. That was absolutely true, and it underlines why, now that the scheme is not to proceed, the MOL designation should be retained. Since the multiplex scheme has failed, there is no conceivable justification for removing the MOL designation.


Bromley also argued in favour of the new designation of the site by reference to the then extant multiplex permission. It stated that "the proposal site and redesignation should remain in place until such time as the future of the top site is decided." Quite why that should be is not explained, particularly when the proposal involves a removal of a fundamental layer of protection.


Bromley also says that the leisure development was proposed to satisfy a need for such facilities in South London. That statement is made without any supporting research or justification, and the successive failure of several leisure schemes, including cinema schemes, shows clearly that it is false. Finally, Bromley states that the location is a sustainable one, being well located for public transport. However, that appeal to PPG6 and PPG13 considerations has not been accompanied by any sequential analysis, and no explanation is given why such schemes should not occur in, say, Streatham (where a cinema has recently closed), Brixton (an excellent example of leisure-led town centre regeneration including the Ritzy Cinema), Croydon (where a 10 screen cinema with 1,822 seats opened in the former Grants Department Store in June 2002), Beckenham (recent refurbishment of Odeon to 6-screen level), Peckham (recent cinema opening) or indeed Bromley itself (recent cinema scheme foundered).


It is worth bringing together some of the main thinking reflected in this proof of evidence as to why this redesignation is palpably indefensible.


There is an extremely strong feeling about the designation of the top site. As I indicate above[116], 83% of local people believe that the top site should remain a park, either as managed parkland or an ecology park.


The Park has been subject not only to neglect but fragmentation over a number of decades. No doubt each disposal of land and subsequent construction of buildings was considered to be the right thing to do at the time. But the net effect has been to produce a hotchpotch of inappropriate structures and an erosion of the green space and landscaping conception of the Park. The integrity of the Park needs to be reaffirmed by a single designation, some broad guidelines in the UDP, and a corporate commitment from Bromley to work with all stakeholders towards a framework masterplan to reverse the decline of the Park. The piecemeal designation of the site will prolong hostility, promote erosion and increase fragmentation.

Bromley does not contest that the main part of the Park should be MOL. I believe that it should all be MOL. This does not mean that there can never be building there. But it does mean that any building would need to be strongly justified in the context of the Park's MOL designation. A commercial leisure designation would of course sidestep such a requirement. I strongly believe that the century-old process of incremental erosion must now cease, and a proactive structure be put in place for the sensitive regeneration of the whole. The UDP is an appropriate place to start that process, so as to establish, through statutory planning, the aspirations to be pursued. This will help guide the future regeneration of the Park having regard to that policy framework, with clear understanding by all concerned of the objectives to be pursued, and therefore with less scope for fruitless and unproductive conflict.


The site is currently MOL, and has been for at least 20 years. It reflects all of the main reasons for so designating land in para 7.7 of RPG3, all of GOL's suggested goals for promoting urban quality, and all of the Mayor's criteria in the draft London Plan for inclusion of land as MOL. The current MOL boundary, Crystal Palace Parade, is logical, defensible and permanent. As PPG2 makes clear, detailed boundaries should be altered only exceptionally. No exceptional circumstances have been advanced. Given that the MOL designation was retained in the current UDP notwithstanding the then imminent commercial development, now that there is no imminent commercial development there is simply no good reason for removing the MOL designation.

I add to the above that in addition to the built form of leisure proposals, the multiplex and its predecessors all contained provision for the private car, whether by way of roads, tunnels, roundabouts, vehicle ramps or car parks in the Park. All of these are obviously inimical to MOL.

One of the main reasons for designating the Park as MOL is that it is of more than local importance as open space: it is of metropolitan importance. That designation was conferred knowing of the dilapidation in the park and the need to regenerate it. The designation has been reinforced by modern thinking about parks, and the increased protection arising from RPG3. No good reason has been given for its removal.

As I say above, the current boundary of the MOL is a permanent physical feature - Crystal Palace Parade - which is a logical, defensible, physically defined boundary. The proposed boundary does not possess such attributes. As such, it weakens MOL protection at this point. It also renders vulnerable the adjoining sites, that is to say the gardens adjoining the traffic lights at the Anerley Hill / Crystal Palace Parade junction and the Thames Water covered reservoir site. Thames Water have in fact objected to the MOL designation of the covered reservoir site (025DH). Bromley's response to that includes the comments that "it contributes to the general openness of the site" and that "it is not desirable to amend the MOL boundary". Bromley's response is correct, but inconsistent with its arguments regarding the top site. This underlines the difficulties caused by ceding the principle of commercial development of the top site.


The proposed designation does nothing to respect the history of the Park or the surrounding area, contrary to national policy and the various historic and conservation designations described above. It is crucially important to handle historic parks with sensitivity, and to designate for a commercial leisure use in conjunction with a bus station is to ignore every word of advice emanating from government and national agencies. There is no local, regional or national policy whatsoever which indicates that to regenerate historic parks one should redesignate them for commercial leisure. The results of the designation create yawning inconsistencies, which are a recipe for future conflict. Any developer would see that this is a Grade II* listed park, mostly a conservation area, surrounded by conservation areas, of archaeological significance, containing many listed structures, and part of a major skyline ridge, yet is to be developed for commercial leisure in conjunction with a bus station. The proposition only needs to be stated for its difficulties to emerge. While one is far from saying that protective designations absolutely preclude built form, these particular designations in this particular place require a far more sensitive policy response for the top site than that proposed by Bromley.


The tree-lined ridge at Crystal Palace was designated as a major skyline ridge in policy E11 of the 1994 UDP and policy BE14 of the Second Deposit Draft, together with App VII.5. The Inspector is invited to notice as she tours the area that the skyline ridge is a major topographical feature, being the highest tree-lined ridge in London, affording a series of long and short views from all directions. The long views are of importance to South Londoners, and should not lightly be interfered with. So far as short views are concerned, from Crystal Palace Parade, the site provides strong open vistas across to Kent, and there are good arguments for retaining these views. Indeed, the vistas were themselves protected by Policy EH11(i)(b) of the current UDP and by BE14 of the new draft.


The introduction of commercial leisure uses in this location runs counter to new thinking on retail and leisure development contained in PPG6, and has been subject to no sequential analysis. There is a widespread fear that food and drink uses will seriously damage the night time economy of the Upper Norwood Triangle. Before making such a designation, a proper analysis should have been carried out, but this has not occurred.


While traffic generation questions can be made subject to a TIA, the fact remains that there is an absence of any strategic highway serving this area. The inevitable consequence is that any traffic usage approaches the site through residential areas, which is of serious concern to local amenity groups.


There has been no recreational needs assessment in terms of PPG17, and no form of audit of open space deficiency, before deciding to remove this land from the land bank of recreational land. In the absence of any proper study by the London Borough of Bromley, it is right to reiterate that the GLC considered this an Area of Open Space Deficiency, that the Green Capital Report suggests that the surrounding areas, and Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham in particular, are poorly served for Metropolitan Open Land, and that the residential populations are rising sharply, increasing pressure on local green space.

The use of parks in Bromley is high. In 2001, the London Borough of Bromley conducted a user satisfaction survey.[117] This demonstrated that 80% of Bromley residents surveyed said they had used parks and open spaces within the last 12 months, which was found to be in line with London generally. That compared with similar results from its Citizens Panel. Interestingly, 49% of Panel members mentioned parks, playgrounds, open spaces and green surroundings as something they most liked about the area. This was the highest percentage for any aspect mentioned unprompted. My experience of the community in the other boroughs leads me to suppose that similar percentages would be obtained all around the Park, which is, despite its currently appalling state, conspicuously well-used.


Given the sharply sloping topography of the Park, the top site should be retained to provide for the recreational needs of Norwood, Sydenham and Dulwich residents. It is unfortunate that the remainder of the high ground has been consumed, by the rather municipal gardens adjoining the Triangle, the bus station, the transmitter, the covered reservoir and the caravan park. Local people view this as their village green, and there is a strong argument for its retention as such.


There has apparently been no ecological study reaching conclusions that the ecological value of the top site is such that it should be built over. In fact, the only existing publicly available study shows it to be an important local asset.


In so far as reliance might be placed on the occupancy of the site by the Crystal Palace, I point out that Para 14 of PPG17 prevents parks being termed "previously developed land" within Annex C of PPG3, and in any event that Annex makes it clear that where the remains of the structure have blended into the landscape then it should not be so termed.


Furthermore, leaving aside the various planning designations of the Park and surrounding areas, the proposed designation of the top site does not even begin to grapple with the historic and cultural resonance of the Crystal Palace itself, which was a unique building supplying a unique and world-class function. Even if it were thought that there is some argument for providing some architectural focus to the Park, nothing in the proposed designation achieves that. In fact, I believe there are many ways of providing such focus, e.g. through monumental sculpture, landscaping or use of water. The proposed designation reflects a use which completely failed and was universally despised. To perpetuate the designation is therefore without logic or justification. It needs to be questioned why the proposal is "in conjunction with the bus station", which is an incongruous imposition on the Park, rather than in conjunction with the regeneration of the Park, or the terracing. The answer is because the proposal seeks to do no more than perpetuate the effect of a now defunct and unworthy scheme. This is a wholly inadequate response to the regeneration needs of this nationally important green space.


In so far as reliance might be placed on the multiplex permission, it is worth pointing out that the permission:


has expired;


was extremely widely opposed;


failed because it was economically unsustainable;


is of at best suspect legality, in relation to the lack of environmental assessment. There are now two court cases proceeding through the European Court of Justice, one brought by the European Commission at the instance of the Campaign and one referred by the House of Lords on the hearing of an appeal by a local resident.


The proposed designation represents thinking about parkland regeneration which runs counter to all the ideas which have emerged during the 1990s. Report after report, and body after body, have made it clear that the overriding responsibility is to enhance the open space and recreational potential of parkland, to respond to the will of the community, to develop funding streams for the process of regeneration. Of course, this is not to say that there can never be a commercial use in a park: far from it. If one visits Kew Gardens, one has the opportunity to dine in an original conservatory, to buy ice creams from vendors within the park, to attend evening concerts etc. The point is that the commercial uses there serve the park rather than vice versa. Nobody would conceive of solving funding problems on Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill or Kew Gardens by developing them for commercial leisure. The challenge is to find funding streams which are concomitant with the fundamental status of the land as parkland. Given the losses in open space that have already occurred in London, and the high value placed on this site, it is an impoverishment of will to take the option of designating the site commercially. It also fails to recognise the profound expression of the community's aspirations for the site over the last 6 years.


The proposed designation is contrary to the spirit of Bromley's own Local Agenda 21 document, Blueprint for a Better Bromley. This case may serve to test whether Local Agenda 21 objectives are to have more than marginal influence in development planning policies.


In so far as reliance may be placed on the "disused" nature of the land, I point out merely that paragraph 2.14 of PPG2 specifically states that dereliction is no justification for removal of Green Belt control. Even if major treatment were not proposed, the site can be brought into informal recreational use for a very small sum of money. In fact, the term "disused" land is a misnomer. Bromley caused a storm of protest lasting over a year by fencing off the site between July 2002 and 2003, because of the damage this did amongst other things to the recreational needs of the community. The land plays an important part in satisfying the informal recreational needs of the surrounding community.


The designation pre-empts the sterling work carried out by local stakeholders and Bromley over the last year to try to develop a framework for the regeneration of the Park. At a recent meeting of the plenary session of the stakeholders forum, not one delegate, including Bromley officers, considered it right to remove MOL.


The site is the entry to the South East London Green Chain - a substantial commercial development would be an incongruous physical symbol at the beginning of this cross-borough green initiative. While of course the draft UDP policy G9 does not absolutely preclude development of land within the Green Chain, it is clear that the general thrust of the policy is to protect the green character of land within it.


The Park suffers from the fact that it falls on the margins of Bromley and is surrounded by five different boroughs (i.e. Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham). The vast majority of users fall outside the borough of Bromley, and therefore have no chance of bringing influence to bear on the regeneration process. Bromley has a poor record of dialogue with people outside its borough boundary, and until the Campaign filled Bromley's role of consultation and the promotion of stakeholders' forums, Bromley met local stakeholders almost exclusively in court. Local people are anxious that whilst Bromley remains the landowner, a change of policy could return us directly to the bad old days of expensive litigation. We do rely on the statutory planning process to give appropriate protection to this Park, rather than leaving the issue wide open in the name of "flexibility." The term "flexibility" could be used as justification for releasing from Green Belt control all manner of land, but I do not believe that that is a proper role for the UDP to play. Unless there is an exceptional justification for removal of the designation of MOL, it should remain. I hope I have demonstrated that every rational consideration in fact points to its retention.

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[115] - I have been told this, but have no documentary evidence. I have queried the position with the London Borough of Bromley who have stated that the "wash-over" approach was adopted following DoE advice regarding Biggin Hill.
[116] - Paragraph 3.3.
[117] - Appendix 36.

©Philip Kolvin