(P.96) It is still not crystal clear

by Andre Erasmus Newsshopper 9 January 2002

The fight for Crystal Palace Park's future continues, with legal wrangles continuing and eco-campaigners wanting public consultation and the historic value of the site preserved. ANDRE ERASMUS looks at the history of this building and the ongoing dispute ...

LOCAL historian and author of To the Palace for the Cup, Ian Bevan, is running a series of lectures on the history of Crystal Palace.

With the battle for the future of the historic site, at this stage, seemingly won by the Crystal Palace Campaign (CPC) as Bromley Council and the proposed developers of the historic site are-locked in legal proceedings, the lectures are particularly relevant.

After four years of campaigning, the CPC regarded the news, in May last year, that the contract for development had been terminated, as a victory.

A £75m complex, at the top of the park - the highest ridge in south London, included cinemas and a huge parking lot had been planned but the council said the developer had failed to meet contract terms.

CPC's campaign had included mobilising the community, costly lawsuits, street campaigning, boycott demonstrations, lobbying international politicians, including a successful complaint against the UK government brought before the European Commission which is still ongoing.

There was media coverage, including an item on the Radio Four's Today programme. The battle, it appears, will continue with the CPC wanting the site restored and put to better use (with public consultation).

The council's plan had come under fire from many quarters during last year with architects expressing concerns over the plans which seemed to include cost-saving measures.

It was stressed the new building and its surroundings needed to be completed to the highest design so it would be admired rather than criticised.

After all, the original Crystal Palace, designed by William Paxton and opened in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition of the works of Industry of All Nations in Hyde Park, had a

"fairy-like appearance being light and graceful despite its size" according to Queen Victoria.

After the exhibition, the building was moved by Paxton to Sydenham Heights where it became a social centre with gardens, lakes and waterfalls added.

However, in November 1936 the Crystal Palace was destroyed by a ferocious fire. .

Eco-warriors and the CPC want the historic value of the site not to be discarded while Bromley Council wants a development which will boost the area.

Last year saw the battle intensify with cost cutting by the designers of the new project coming under fire.

Originally English Heritage and the then Royal Fine Art Commission (now the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) had supported the plan, but their opinions started changing.

The CPC kept up the fight on all fronts, with its campaign to challenge 14 pub-type drinks licences, which the council wanted, being most telling. More than 600 people wrote objections to Bromley Licensing Magistrates and the magistrates granted only one pub-type licence.

In February, the Appeal Court reversed the High Court's decision to deny judicial review and set a full three judge hearing for next October.

Still at issue is the crucial determination whether Bromley Council, and the UK government, had breached a Euro Directive (as the European Commission maintains) by failing to require the developer to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to planning consent.

The missing ETA was ordered and at the end of it see Mayor Livingstone turn it down.

In May came the announcement the contract had been terminated and the council's plans to sue the developer.

Meanwhile the CPC sees its task is now to be catalyst for the positive. Where the council had failed to consult, the CPC is surveying residents wishes in the five boroughs adjoining the park, working towards consensus.

The CPC has also proposed a Community Trust to regenerate the park in association with Bromley Council. Supporting this venture is Cabinet member Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

The CPC hopes to have something to celebrate by the time of the 150th anniversary of the Palace's move from Hyde Park to Sydenham in 2004.

• Mr Bevan's series of 10 lectures at Kentwood Centre, Penge, on the history of the Crystal Palace started yesterday. For further details and to enrol, call the Bromley Adult Education on 020-8460-0020. Lectures are on Tuesdays at 1.30pm and Wednesdays at 7.30pm.

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Last updated 21/01/02