UDP ruling to protect Crystal Palace Park
a triumph for the Campaign

Bromley Council’s long-standing attempt to remove the protection of Metropolitan Open Land Status from the top site of Crystal Palace Park has been comprehensively rejected by the Public Inquiry Inspector appointed by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. The Inspector, Mrs Ava Wood, ruled on September 1 that the site – where the Crystal Palace once stood and which was earmarked by Bromley until 2001 for the largest cinema multiplex in the south of England – should remain MOL for the next generation. In making this finding, she accepted all of the submissions of the Crystal Palace Campaign (CPC), which ran to 500 pages of evidence at the January 2004 inquiry into Bromley’s Unitary Development Plan.

The Campaign’s case was presented for free by Philip Kolvin, a planning barrister, in his last act as CPC Chairman. Ray Sacks, the Campaign’s new Chairman, commented:

“This devastating judgment represents complete vindication of the arguments which the Campaign have been presenting for 7 years. We believe this is the ribbon on the trophy in terms of the protection of the site. In the light of this judgment, we hope that all parties will accept the open space imperative and historic importance of the site, and that any future proposals, including those imminently forthcoming from the London Development Agency (LDA) will respect its special value, and its place in the hearts and minds of Londoners.”

This was the first independent inquiry into Bromley’s approach to the site since the multiplex proposal, and the Inspector left the Council in no doubt that its proposals were completely misconceived. She found that there were no reasons at all for removing the site from Metropolitan Open Land. She described the land as ”elevated, highly visible from a considerable distance, wooded in parts and indistinguishable from the open and recreational aspects of the Park as a whole, the importance and significance of which spreads beyond Bromley.“ She accepted the wide historic significance of the Park, and stated that it contributed to the green character of London.

Shortly before the inquiry, Bromley agreed to drop its proposal to designate the site for commercial leisure, but still wanted to include text suggesting that it would eventually go for such a use. The Inspector comprehensively rejected that proposal. She signaled a clear warning to Bromley that letting the land fall into dereliction could never be a reason to build on it – instead she demanded that the land be improved.

Note to editors
the full text of the Inspector’s report on the top site at Crystal Palace Park, as released by Bromley, is attached below (3 pages)


By Mrs Ava Wood Dip Arch Architect

1st September 2004


A. Crystal Palace Park

  1. There is considerable overlap in the issues relating to, firstly, objections to Policy G2, its supporting text and modification of the MOL boundary and, secondly, to Proposal Sites 8 and 9. The arguments and objections are interdependent and linked also with issues concerning the strategic treatment of Crystal Palace Park. In this Section I shall deal only with the matters concerned with the MOL designation, plus those relevant to Proposal Sites 8 and 9.
  2. In the 2DD version of the UDP the Proposals Map indicates an area of land on the western section of Crystal Palace Park (known as the Top Site), which is described as disused land and allocated for, inter alia, leisure and recreational development (Proposal Site 9). Land to be released from MOL coincides with the extent of the proposal site, which in turn comprises the footprint of the historic Crystal Palace. Although the Council has now reinstated the Top Site as MOL and deleted Proposal Site 9 (under a FIC), I have a duty to consider the 2DD proposals, as the FIC was not subject to the statutory period of consultation.

Summary of Objections to removal of land from MOL

  1. The site has been MOL for at least 20 years and has been an intrinsic part of the Park for over 70 years. It reflects and meets each of the designation criteria, as set out in RPG3 and the London Plan, as well as reflects GOL’s suggested goals for promoting urban quality. No exceptional circumstances have been advanced to justify removal of the site from MOL.
  2. The land is neglected but not disused or derelict. The neglect is due partly to the Council’s own actions. In any case, the condition of the land is not a reason for removal of its MOL status.
  3. Now that there is no imminent commercial development of the site, there is no good reason for removing the MOL designation.
  4. The land is highly valued by the local community as part of the Park, and it makes an important contribution to the overall perception of openness. It provides a view into the Park from the public highway; it performs the function of a park for residents over a wide area and provides a natural visual amenity.
  5. Unlike the majority of the formally landscaped parkland areas of the Park, the top site provides a rural atmosphere with a sense of countryside, magnificent views and sense of space.
  6. While the more formal areas of the Park contribute to the area as a cultural asset, there is little in the way of native ground flora. The Top Site has by far the most scrub, woodland, wildflowers and grassland habitat. It is also recognised by LWT as an important feeding and resting point for migrant birds.
  7. The current boundary, formed by Crystal Palace Parade, is a logical, defensible and physically defined boundary. The proposed boundary would not possess such attributes. MOL protection at this point would be weakened and the adjoining sites (gardens adjoining traffic lights at Anerley Hill/Crystal Palace Parade junction and Thames Water sites) would become vulnerable.
  8. Removal of the land from MOL would be contrary to national policy that seeks to protect open space (PPG17, paras 5, 24, 27, 31 51).

Inspector's Reasoning and Conclusions

  1. Save for the bus interchange area, the Top Site has a predominantly open character. It is elevated, highly visible from a considerable distance, wooded in parts and indistinguishable from the open and recreational aspects of the Park as a whole, the importance and significance of which spread beyond Bromley. Given the time that has elapsed since the Palace burnt down, and the absence of development on the site since then, this cannot be described as previously developed land. While there may be some debate about the nature conservation or habitat value of the site in metropolitan terms, there is little doubt about its wider historic significance, again in conjunction with the remains of the original Paxton layout.
  2. Given these attributes, it follows that the land proposed for exclusion from the 2DD meets the London Plan criteria for designation. What is more, it performs the MOL function of providing a clear break in the urban fabric and contributes to the green character of London. The current boundary of the MOL is recognisable, defensible and protects the MOL from encroachment. The same cannot be said for the proposed boundary, as there are no obvious or similarly well-defined features to mark the extent of the land to be excluded. The new boundary would not be robust and would expose the vulnerability of adjoining areas of the Park – namely the site of the TV transmitter mast and the Thames Water site.
  3. The Council reasoned that the purpose of removing the MOL designation was to carry forward the proposal in the adopted UDP and to reflect the extant planning permission granted for the leisure development in 1998. It has to be said that since 1987 there have been a number of leisure developments granted permission in the Park. The latest permission however expired in March 2003. I need not emphasise in this Report the conflicts that have arisen in connection with the permitted scheme. The facts are known to all those involved and it would serve no useful purpose for me to reiterate or respond to the well-aired evidence concerning the granting and demise of the 1998 permission. The relevant fact to record is that at the time of the Inquiry it was confirmed that there were no plans before the Council for development on the Top Site.
  4. I agree with the Council that had the leisure scheme been implemented, there may have been grounds for considering release of the site from MOL. However, there is no longer any compelling evidence from the Council or anyone else to suggest that exceptional circumstances exist to justify any change to the MOL boundary at the top end of the Park. Certainly, the present unmanaged state of the land is not a reason for changing the MOL boundary or for allowing development. Instead, as advised in the London Plan, steps should be taken to improve it. In the absence of any, let alone exceptional, reasons for altering the boundary at the Top Site, I support the Council’s FIC to retain the land as MOL.

Summary of Objections to Proposal Site 9

  1. There is no supporting justification for or research that supports the need for leisure development in the area. No sequential analysis has been undertaken to justify the Top Site as a favoured sustainable location for such a development.
  2. Equally, no audit of open space deficiency undertaken to justify removal of the site from the land bank of recreational land.
  3. The surrounding areas are poorly served by MOL and rising residential population increases pressure on local green space. Loss of the Top Site to development would be irreversible and would remove a valuable area of land used by a large number of people for informal recreation.
  4. The proposed designation reflects a use which completely failed, was universally disliked and would be economically unsustainable. It runs counter to all the ideas and thinking about Parks that have emerged during the 1990s.
  5. The site is the entry to the South East London Green Chain. A substantial commercial development would be an incongruous physical symbol at the beginning of this cross-borough green initiative.
  6. Any development on the site would impact on the integrity of the historic landscape.
  7. If an architectural focus or commercial use is to be provided, then it should serve the Park rather than vice versa.
  8. The designation pre-empts work carried out by stakeholders and LBB to try to develop a framework for regeneration of the Park.

Inspector's Reasoning and Conclusions

  1. Having agreed with the Council’s FIC to retain the Top Site in the MOL, it follows that Proposal Site 9 would constitute an inappropriate development and it would be wrong to promote such a development in the UDP. I have to say that, in planning terms alone, I have some considerable doubts about the proposal, given the absence of any justification in PPG6 or PPG13 terms, as well as the lack of any open space audit or strategy to justify loss of this area of open land. The Council’s witness submitted that some development is likely to take place on the Top Site to reflect its importance. However, as with any other inappropriate development in MOL or GB, such proposals would be subject to the tests of very special circumstances, in the context of an application, but should not be given the status of automatic acceptability in the UDP. The Council’s decision to delete Proposal Site 9, in the face of the MOL designation, is correct and I support the FIC.


  1. Modify the UDP by deleting Proposal Site 9 and including the Top Site at Crystal Palace Park in MOL, in accordance with the proposed FIC.

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11/09/04 Last updated 11/09/04