CHAPTER 1                   INTRODUCTION


Crystal Palace Park is most famous for having been the site of the Crystal Palace, Sir Joseph Paxton's seminal masterpiece in glass and iron. The Palace stood at the head of the Park, known as the Top Site, from 1854 until it burned down in 1936. The continued neglect of the Top Site is the most obvious manifestation of the neglect and decline of the Park, which has continued over most of the last century.


Much of the historic fabric of the Park, however, remains. The listed terracing spans the Park, and accentuates the stepped conception of Paxton's landscaping. The terracing is still the home of the sphinxes, one of the most famous symbols of the Park's former glories. The dinosaurs have recently been restored, together with the geological time trail which was their original setting. There is a vaulted subway, which connected the Palace to the upper level railway station (demolished to make way for a housing estate). The base of one of Brunel's water towers remains, alongside the former School of Engineering (the only original building left in the Park) which is now a small museum of the history of the Crystal Palace.


The open, historic character of the Park is reflected in its three-fold designations. It is one of only 19 local-authority owned Grade II* listed historic parks in the country. It is also Metropolitan Open Land. Finally, most of the Park lies within a Conservation Area.


Some parts of the Park have been lost to other uses. A portion of the northern perimeter was used for housing. A TV transmitter, a caravan park, a covered reservoir and a bus terminus have taken up much of the western side.


A number of modern features jar with the Victorian landscaping of the Park. A recently constructed concert platform built deliberately in rusting metal has received a national design award but has proved unpopular with the public. New farm buildings, partly constructed of gabion (boulders in wire mesh), strike a somewhat dissonant note, while the animals previously housed in the farm have gone, with no apparent prospect of returning. In 1964, the then owners of the Park, the London County Council, built the National Sports Centre in the heart of the Park across Paxton's central axis. The Sports Centre provides a much-needed facility, but its utilitarian 1960's architecture together with unattractive ancillary buildings, parking areas, wire fencing and hardstand areas, are discordant features in the Park. The fabric of the Sports Centre, like much of what surrounds it, has fallen into serious decline.


The London Borough of Bromley inherited the Park from the Greater London Council in 1986. Bromley proposed successive hotel and commercial leisure schemes for the Top Site. Both collapsed for economic reasons.


In 1996, Bromley published new proposals for the Top Site, including a 20 screen multiplex cinema, with a substantial rooftop car park, and a series of restaurants, bars and "leisure boxes". This was to anchor a composite bid for the restoration of the National Sports Centre and the modernisation of the Park. In the event, the National Sports Centre bid was rejected by the Sports Lottery Fund and the Park bid was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund, save for the restoration of the dinosaurs and certain other Victorian features.


In the meantime, the multiplex cinema scheme was widely opposed, and the Crystal Palace Campaign was formed. The Campaign conducted a vigorous attack on the scheme, through lawful protest, litigation, widely distributed newsletters, public meetings, and political lobbying. This is not the place for a full description of the activities of the Campaign, which can be found on its website, Suffice to say that over 40,000 people signed its petition opposing the scheme.


At an early stage, it became apparent that while there was broad opposition to the multiplex scheme, there were disparate aspirations for the Top Site. For example, some believed passionately that the ecological value of the Top Site, its open character and its green aspect on the London skyline, were such that it should never be developed. Others believed that the history of the site demanded a homage to, or even replica of, the Crystal Palace, and that not to build in that way was to leave the Park incomplete.


The Campaign thought it important to unite, rather than fracture, opposition to the scheme. Therefore, it never campaigned for a particular form of development of the Top Site. Instead, it argued that there should be a democratic process of consultation of stakeholders leading to agreement in the community about the future of the Top Site and the rest of the Park. It also argued that no scheme should be approved until its environmental effects were fully understood.


These considerations led the Campaign to adopt the following Core Principles:


We are opposed to the multiplex development proposed by London and Regional Properties, both as to form and content. We are not prepared to accept this building or any variation, mutation or diminution of it.


Any proposal for Crystal Palace Park must respect the parkland location, the history of the site and the residential surroundings.


Any proposal must be the subject of a full environmental assessment and a traffic impact assessment.


The community must have a full consultative and participatory role in any proposal for the future of its Park.

Figure 1 : Crystal Palace Campaign - Core Principles


The Core Principles were sufficiently robust to enable individuals to decide whether or not they wished to subscribe to the Campaign's aims and ethos. The Principles also acknowledged the various sensitivities of the site, namely, its historic and ecological value, together with its residential environs. However, the Principles could act as no more than a broad starting position if there was ever a debate as to how the Top Site should be used in the future. Clearly, an infinite number of schemes could satisfy the Core Principles. Until the multiplex was defeated, there was no point in taking the debate any further.


In May 2001, the London Borough of Bromley announced that the developer, London & Regional Properties Limited, had reneged on its obligations, and that the Council had terminated its agreement with the company. At that time, it was apparent, and the London Borough of Bromley have since stated, that no commercial developer would be interested in reviving the multiplex proposal. The time had come to move the debate on.


Consistent with its previous stance, the steering group of the Campaign did not believe that it had the right or the authority of its supporters to campaign for a particular scheme on the site. Rather, its role is to try, so far as possible, to facilitate a genuine consultation with the public, stimulating debate and, ideally, bringing the community to consensus. For that reason, the Campaign has deliberately avoided proposing specific schemes and has not responded to specific schemes proposed by others. Thus, in this consultation exercise, we have set out a broad spectrum of uses for each area within the Park, asking respondents to indicate their preference.


We regard this as a broad, initial survey of opinion. Future consultation should build on the responses to this consultation, by asking more specific questions, so as to bring the community's view into sharper focus. Ultimately, it will be necessary to move towards a series of outline proposals upon which the community may express views, so that a consensus, or at least a majority, view emerges.


The Campaign has offered to help build, in partnership with the London Borough of Bromley, a collaborative body consisting of Bromley itself, members of the community and other interested public sector organisations, in order to bring the community's aspirations for this Park to fruition. Should Bromley agree, then the collaborative body would be responsible for future consultation.


We do not believe that the road ahead will be short, or free of potholes. But we do believe that it is only through a patient process of dialogue, both within the community itself, and between the community and its political representatives, that Crystal Palace Park will be sensitively regenerated for those who follow us. For 150 years, local people have not been asked their views as to the future of the Park. Consultation starts here.


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Crystal Palace Campaign March 2002 - Consultation Starts Here
Copyright: Day, Kolvin, Sacks 2002
Last updated: 26 March 2002