Webmasters reply - I would not normally comment on letters but Professor Bromley raises an issue about which many people feel strongly. I, therefore, include here my letter to Professor Bromley - it, I hope , will explain a position that many people I know take and strike a chord amongst most of the Campaign's supporters:
Thank you for your note - there certainly are many people who would like to see the old Palace rebuilt. However, there is a significant problem... You may have noticed from the web site that the theme of "traffic" and "congestion" and "pollution" are high on the agenda. The difficulty with rebuilding the Palace is simply this - times have changed.
The original building was placed in an area, on top of Sydenham Hill, which was very sparsely populated. There were a mere handful of houses surrounding the park. Early maps show this very clearly. The Victorians built two railway stations running hundreds of trains a day, to take something like 2 million people a year to the Palace and its magnificent grounds. The current proposals from Bromley Council involve an 18 cinema multiplex (one of the largest in the UK) which requires 4 million visitors a year to be profitable - the developers are not in it for fun!
This now will have to take place in an area which has changed beyond recognition from the mid nineteenth century. While the population of England and Wales in general has, more or less, doubled since then, the local population has increased in a much bigger ratio since London building has swept outwards to engulf formerly rural areas.
This not only means that there is a major logistical problem in bringing large numbers of people into what is now a heavily populated area suffering greatly from traffic congestion, it also means that there is great pressure on open space i.e. on using it for purposes other than park-land. The whole area of south east London is served by, compared to the rest of London, relatively few large open spaces and Crystal Palace Park is one of them. Further, in spite of the governments promises to improve public transport within a rational transport policy, very little has happened or is likely to happen in the near future.
The Campaign is therefore against large developments in the Park - especially the current proposal which will generate tens of thousands of extra car-journeys a day - although there are some who have sympathy with your views but do not and indeed cannot follow this path mainly for the reasons discussed above.
Currently we (the Campaign) are entering into mediation talks with the developer and others and hope to find a sensible solution to the dilemma. One which will respect the great historic value of the site, maintain the area as a much needed open space and not contribute towards the current traffic congestion problems.
I have been to Albany, NY to work for a few days at a company establishment and I remember that part of New York State as an essentially rural area. It was autumn and I have vivid memories of the beautiful colours as the trees were changing seasons. Around our Park you can still find pleasant walks, tree dominated areas and relative calm in what is a busy area. Local shops range from established, traditional "fruit and veg." sellers to bookshops and a place where you can buy Spanish shaving cream. There are a myriad of restaurants of all types - Thai, Italian, Indian, English and even a MacDonalds!
The Park itself is a little sad in parts where areas of Paxton's terracing remain. Some sphinxes still proudly guard the once magnificent steps leading up to the original Palace. But almost all of the statues are long gone, empty bear cans and other debris betray Bromley Council's lack of interest in keeping the Park tidy. A heavily fenced off and now guarded area at the top of the Park, where the development is planned, is a remnant of the days when thousands of police were called in to evict about 30 "eco-warriors" dug in to make their protest. A bus station has been built into a corner of the Crystal Palace Parade, eating into the Park space. It was supposed take buses off the Parade to ease traffic flow but, it turns out, was designed too small for the job. What faith can we have in a council who can't even design a bus station - the very public transport facility which potentially could reduce the congestion?
There is much to see in our area especially the vibrant atmosphere in the "triangle" - the shopping area mentioned above. I hope you will be able to see the Park still intact as a Park but I believe that, at least as far as this area is concerned, the Crystal Palace in its original form will have to remain a dream kept fresh in the memory of people still alive who knew the Palace before the final tragic fire and also in the museum which houses lots of memorabilia of the Palace. There is not much left of Paxton's great architecture. However a significant legacy remains - a village planned by him (Edensor, in Chatsworth Park) a railway station, various houses and many gardens designed by him - his first love, gardening!
Should you visit London, let me know and I'll show you Crystal Palace Park and the museum and our little corner of England where contentious public issues are part of our struggle.
Ray Sacks (webmaster and, incidentally, engineer)
PS - keep an eye on the website for developments...