(P.51) Diary of the Chair of the Crystal Palace Campaign - Living South October 2000


Diary of the Chair of the Crystal Palace Campaign

by Philip Kolvin


Steaming coffee in a plastic cup heralds the start of the week. Get on train at Liverpool Street to head off out of the Smoke to my real job. Use journey to call Vivien, secretary of the Crystal Palace Campaign. We are a coalition of local interests (40,000-strong to judge by petitions) determined to prevent the abomination of a 20-screen cinema/leisure multiplex being built on the ridge line of Crystal Palace Park. Our current action is to oppose the 14 liquor licences which the developer wants to put in the multiplex. Vivien, a volunteer like everyone else involved, is a dedicated and doughty organiser; and we use the opportunity to plan the strategy for the week.

Later, at my hotel room, faxes arrive with drafts of the autumn newsletter. This will go to 40,000 households, and is our attempt at consultation with the whole community as to what they would like to see in the park.

Bromley Council, despite being the planning authority and owner of the park, just never managed to get round to proper consultation. This is the culmination of months of effort involving representatives of other local groups and professional people. Wendy, the graphics person, knows her design backwards. Our aim is to involve people, convey information honestly and, lesson number one for all campaigns, to avoid ranting. I fax back my scribbled comments, phone the indomitable Lorna to chat about distribution by our superb team of helpers, turn on Big Brother and gradually...


A day in the office sees a steady stream of emails. The internet is a blessing for environmental campaigns such as ours. Without breaking the rhythm of my working day I can communicate several decisions, maintain contact with supporters and keep the campaign on track. Through our website (www.crystal.dircon.co.uk) our supporters can find out the latest news, where we are appearing, marching and so on. The world wide web is a force for democracy. The developer may be worth billions, but it cannot match the efficiency, passion and commitment of local people, who have harnessed new technology to protect their community.

Phone our press officer, the redoubtable Fred, to ensure we keep up the pressure of exposing Bromley's calamitous handling of public money (debacles with the National Sports Centre, and park re-landscaping schemes dropped by the Heritage Lottery Fund). Local press and regional TV news have been very supportive.


Back to London. Flood of phone messages - journalists, campaign supporters, other groups. I cannot humanly deal with them all, but field those I can to other members of the Steering Group, fax answers where possible, and make note to call others on mobile when a moment arises.

The house sleeps. The moon is high. Peace. It is when I work best. I exhume from a mountain of paper the developer's application for reserved matters approval, the final details of the function and appearance of the building. The real shocks are concealed in the myriad plans - a Victorian wall knocked down here, an indeterminate number of trees trashed there, abandonment of plans for a new avenue of trees somewhere else. The architects' plans are inadequate and we write to Bromley to tell them so. Of course, they will ignore us. In three years, they have never so much as acknowledged that there is any concern about this building: they shan't start now. Still, we must fight on...

Illustration by Joel Morris


Steering Group meeting. A chance for those at the heart of this battle to come together to share ideas, argue, express frustration and plan the battles ahead. They are an intelligent, feisty and highly committed group of people, honed on conflict, who work best when there is a battle on. I am proud to be associated with them. The campaign has been well-received at summer fairs and fetes, thanks to our events organiser, Kim, who produces brilliant stalls on a shoestring. I find these vital to keep us in touch with local people and children who'll be the heirs to the parks we'll (try to) leave behind us.

We commission new T-shirt and car stickers, to raise consciousness rather than significant profit. An inscrutable sphinx shall be our autumn logo. We think ahead to a national conference of environmental campaigns next year, to highlight the struggle. . . and of course the names of the businesses sufficiently unwise to take space in this building, chief amongst which is UCI Cinemas. Let the public be their judge.


Renewed phone contact with our local MPs. They have become increasingly supportive of our campaign, but basically they are hobbled by the ill-advised decision John Prescott made in 1998 when he failed to call these plans in, following which Bromley rapidly gave planning permission. Proof that their traffic analysis was flawed, and that this development will produce a air-clogging 17,000 vehicle movements each Saturday has not given them pause for thought. And that, say the courts (at least so far), is that. Watch this space. Tessa Jowell MP, who worked hard to bring about a stakeholders forum between the community and the developer, is angry at the developer's decision to pull out of talks, and voices her opposition to the scheme in the press. We are pleased. Also today write new letter to Mayor Livingstone and his environment secretary Darren Johnson. Both have been terrific. They vowed to do all in their power to halt the "ghastly multiplex". The trouble is they don't have retroactive powers. Late night chat with our major fund-raiser, Mike. As long as the developers haven't turned a sod, there's still hope we can halt them.

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