(N69) ZhongRong proposition - Val Shawcross Blog - 22 March 2014

Valerie Shawcross CBE is a Labour Party politician and member of the London Assembly for Lambeth and Southwark.

Val  Shawcross latest blog (post Dulwich Community Council meeting)
Have Arups suddenly turned shy about development plans on Crystal Palace Park? We need some important questions answering.

I wrote recently about my deep concern that Arup, who are the Development consultants for ZRG gave little useful or meaningful information at the badly organised public consultation events held in the Park. This last week they repeated a lamentably ‘hollow’ presentation to the well informed, and rightly challenging, audience at Dulwich Community Council (DCC) and to their credit, the Arup team of two at least expressed their own ‘frustration’ and showed a degree of decent embarrassment with the thin pickings of information they had to offer on what this major Chinese Development company wants to build on the top site at Crystal Palace Park.

They told the audience that half of the land used will be for a ‘Cultural asset/visitor facility’. There would be ‘public spaces, restaurants, an observation deck, art galleries and a six star hotel, plus a bus interchange, car parking facilities and services.’

They were unable to get anywhere near guessing how much land would be built on or what the actual size of each of these facilities would be. They do not consequently have any guesstitmates on the number of visitors or trips this will generate. They said the approach to dealing with the local pressures placed on transport and roads would be to make use of backflows – that is, use the empty trains coming back out of London after the morning rush hour. They confirmed that there would be an attempt made to amend the 1990 Crystal Place Park Act which currently limits the area of the topsite which can be developed to 50%. They confirmed that the intention is still to get a planning application in to Bromley in late 2014, but when I challenged them on the indecent haste of this and the damage this would do to the possibilities of proper public engagement and consultation, they did confess the it’s not unusual for such schemes to ‘slip’.

Essentially they confirmed that the reason for the absence of information at this stage is that the work has not been yet done to determine the detail of the uses of the building or most importantly, in my view, to establish yet what the transport capacity is in the area. How much can the local roads and public transport services take? ZRG are focussing, they said, on the negotiations with Bromley for the leasing of the land, and this is to me a huge worry in itself.

Arup have, I am told, now briefed Council Leaders that they won’t be undertaking any more meetings with the community until they have more to show people. They also confirmed that the project brief wouldn’t be available for the architects until the shortlist is down to 3 some time after April 23rd. They expect to be able to undertake public meetings in June. They have since pulled out of the Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce meeting due to be held on 27th March.

My view is that the whole project is still proceeding in a topsy turvy and dangerous way.

As one participant at the DCC put it, if you wanted to build a major visitor attraction, a six star hotel and restaurants in London, wouldn’t you first specify what you would like to build and then do a site search to find a suitable location; then do work assessing the development’s transport needs and the impact of the visitors; then work out how to reduce the car traffic to acceptable levels before submitting a planning application. The purchasing or leasing of the land would be ‘subject to planning consent being granted’.

Here we apparently have a situation where the developer has decided he wants to rebuild the Crystal Palace (or the spirit of it) on this historic public park, and at this stage regardless of the suitability, appropriateness or practicability of the plans, is negotiating for a long lease on this much loved public park. Work on business planning and assessing the environmental and transport suitability of this proposal seems to be stalling until these negotiations are concluded. Architects will be designing concepts in the absence, it may be, of a detailed brief.

Added to this is the evident enthusiasm of Bromley Council to offload the enormous financial responsibility for this park onto a foreign owned development company and to do so quickly. Presumably this haste is to make progress whilst a Mayor and Government of their own political colour are in place so that (possibly, in my opinion) they won’t have to deal with unfriendly scrutiny from above. The Mayor has signed a Memorandum of Understanding supporting the project (while he doesn’t really know what it is) and it was reported to a briefing of Council Leaders this week that Boris will be lobbying the Government to include a Bill to amend the 1990 Act in the next Queens’ speech. This was reported to be likely to cover the issue of how much land can be developed (enlarged) and the length of lease that can be granted.

So the questions continue to reverberate, but in the meantime Bromley and the Mayor’s office at City Hall continue to seemingly regard ZRG as generous benefactors rather than a sharp and commercially minded global property development company.

This development must not be allowed for be forced through without being strongly challenged and shaped through proper planning processes and without due regard to the public interest. But we cannot take for granted Bromley and the Mayor’s office will to properly scrutinise this proposed scheme because they have already shown unquestioning enthusiasm for it and a willingness (in the MoU) to deliberately operate in conditions of secrecy.

I urge everyone reading this to help shine a light on this whole fiasco. Ask questions, loudly, publicly and frequently. Ask Bromley, the Mayor, the Government, the media, environmental and heritage organisations and most of all elected politicians about this. The four other Boroughs which meet near this park should be consulted and engaged now.

Some issues we can ask about:

How is it possible for Bromley to lease off part of a public park without any competitive tendering process? How will we know that Bromley has got the best financial consideration?
How will the future of the park and the activities on the site be controlled in the public interest if the park is leased off on a long (possibly125 year) lease?
What is to stop the park lease being sold on or to control potential sub-letting?
How was it possible for the Mayor (Despite being the London Planning Authority) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing to progress the project in conditions of ‘confidentiality’ until the end of 2013?
Why do Bromley and the Mayor think it appropriate to seek to amend the 1990 Act protecting the park without having any details of the business operations planned in the development?
What mechanism will be used to absolutely ensure contributions to the restoration of the park ?

Details and impact:

How large will the hotel be? How large will the visitor attractions be? How many visitor and staff trips are likely to be generated and at what time during their operation?
What volume of commercial and delivery traffic is envisaged to service the development when in operation?
How much road traffic increase can be expected? What routes will these additional vehicles use through the surrounding communities?
What plans would there be to deal with traffic congestion in the Triangle, along Central Hill and around the park itself? (Where congestion is already problematic)
What kind of visitor attractions are planned – are there any gambling facilities planned?
How many licensed premises will be on the site?
How much and what kind of retail activity will be on the site?
Will there be performances of any kind – if so what and how often?
How many car parking places will be provided?
What will happen to the bus station? (this was shown as built over in the first CGI images of the development)
How will public transport passengers get to the site from central London?


Will there be a coherent public consultation on the proposals before the planning application is submitted?
How will local residents influence the building uses and the design process?
How will residents from neighbouring Boroughs be consulted (Southwark, Croydon, Lambeth and Lewisham)?

I could go on, and in the coming weeks I will do so.

22 March 2014



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2/2/14 Last updated 2/2/14