(P.80) Plan to develop park as leisure complex axed

by Helen Parrott, Croydon Advertiser 18 May 2001
pictures by Alan Alexander

Jubilant residents claimed victory this week after unpopular plans to build a massive leisure development in a historic park were sensationally scrapped.

In a move that stunned and delighted protesters Bromley Council has announced the collapse of Crystal Palace Park's £58m multiplex cinema scheme.

The authority blamed developer London and Regional Property (L&R) for failing to complete their lease on time and terminated the development agreement.

It is taking legal advice on claims against L&R.

Thumbs up: Diane Barker
and Alexandra are all smiles

Now campaigners are demanding that local people work together to plan a sustainable future for the park.

Bromley's sudden about turn comes after a four year battle of legal wrangles, court cases, European intervention and even eco-warriors who took to the trees in protest at the plans.

Critics described the proposed development, which included 18 cinema screens, a roof top car park for 1,000 vehicles and restaurants and pubs as a "greyhound stadium stand" and a "car park in the sky".

And they feared it would dominate the skyline, create traffic chaos and pollution and destroy wildlife and parkland.

A joint statement issued by Bromley's party leaders Cllr Chris Maines (Lib Dem), Cllr John Holbrook(Lab) and Cllr Michael Tickner (Con) said: "We are extremely disappointed that we have to take this step which will mean that the leisure amenities and hundreds of jobs they would have generated will not now be realised, despite the fact that none of the legal challenges against the council's actions in granting planning permission for the development have been upheld."

The council said it would be considering the future of the site "due course".

Philip Kolvin, of Crystal Palace Campaign (CPC), which was formed by residents to fight the scheme, said it was a "victory for the local community" and a "tribute to the tens of thousands of people who stood together for what they knew to be right".

Sue Nagle, of Crystal Palace Protest, said the news was incredible adding: "Our protest members have been rewarded for their tireless endeavours."

The future of the park is now under intense scrutiny with residents demanding they have a say in any new plans.

Martin Heath, of Ridge Wildlife Group, said: "We are pushing to make sure that the site is used for wildlife and open spaces. We are going to be lobbying everybody."

Croydon North MP, Malcolm Wicks, proposed a public competition to encourage ideas for local groups and Croydon Central MP Geraint Davies pledged to keep pushing to force the government to pass responsibility for the park to the GLA and the Mayor Ken Livingstone. Mr Livingstone, who pledged to do all in his power to stop the scheme, said: "I'm delighted that this wholly unacceptable scheme has collapsed. I have always opposed this ghastly development of the historic parkland.

"I hope that in the future Bromley Council and the local community will be able to agree on a viable and appropriate alternative scheme to regenerate Crystal Palace Park."

The now aborted development included almost 50 projects and two other major projects - the modernisation of the National Sports Centre and restoration of the park will still go ahead.

•The collapse of plans to turn Crystal Palace Park into a £150m leisure complex could see Bromley Council, which sank millions into the scheme, face investigation by the District Auditor. The auditor was alerted by local architect George Ralph who wrote complaining about the public money spent on the project.

Some of the money was spent evicting eco-warriors and fighting a High Court battle last year over drinks licences for the scheme.

Protesters' timetable of triumph

1996: A plan to build a new Crystal Palace was resurrected by London and Regional Properties with strong opposition from residents. The Crystal Palace Campaign and Crystal Palace Protest were formed to fight the unpopular scheme.

1997: Bromley Council granted outline planning permission for the multiplex and Environment Secretary John Prescott approved the development.

1998: Eco warriors occupied the site in April and then a year long battle ended when the veterans of environmental battles in Newbury and Manchester airport were evicted. Bromley Council was left with a £2.7m bill.

1999: Over 100 trees were chopped down on the site. Single mum Diane Barker launched a David and Goliath High Court battle against Bromley Council for the sake of her four-year-old daughter Alexandra's health.

2000: Final details for the concrete multiplex were given the green light by councillors. Diane Barker's case was overturned but she lodged an appeal an won a hearing scheduled for October 2001. Six campaigning residents from Crystal Palace Protest won the right to a public hearing in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The European Commission sent a formal notice to the UK Government due to its failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment before granting planning permission for the site.

2001: Bromley Council pulls the plug on the scheme due to the failure of the developers to complete the lease in time.

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2/6/01 Last updated 2/6/01