This blog will really only be of interest to you if you live in South East London, but felt I had to write it because it’s something I feel so passionately about. So apologies to everyone else!
I love Crystal Palace Park. I really, really love it – it’s one of my favourite places in London. In fact, it’s possibly my actual favourite place in London. I spent a lot of my childhood there, roller-skating round the park, clambering over the gorilla statue, admiring the dinosaurs, and running across the grass with my brother, my cousins and our friends. I learned to dive at the brilliant diving pool, I started and finished my (very short) career as a synchronised swimmer there. On more than one occasion I was butted by a goat and ended up sobbing at the farm. My best friend and I used to walk down the wide stone steps that once led to the Crystal Palace itself and pretend to be princesses.
Now I take my children there. They love the dinosaurs. They love the new sandpit where they can uncover fossils. They love the farm and the ponds and they really, really love all the space.
We spent the day there yesterday. It was packed. As we arrived a charity 10km run was finishing in the stadium so there were hoards of runners leaving, proudly displaying their medals. It was a gloriously sunny day, and the playground was full of happy children. The café was heaving, the grass covered in families, couples and individuals soaking up the first proper sun of the year. The beach volleyball courts were full, there were people playing five-a-side football, basketball, swimming, rollerblading, running, cycling, scooting, you name it.
But that might all be about to change. In October 2013, it was announced that an investor from China – called Mr Ni – wants to redevelop the site of the original Crystal Palace, which burned down in 1936. It’s all still in the planning stages, but he fancies building a hotel, an art gallery, maybe a museum, perhaps a conference centre. Apparently, he fell in love with the history of the park and the Palace when his daughters studied architecture. Lovely. I have no doubt that’s true. The history of the Crystal Palace is amazing. I love Victorian London so it appeals to me, too.
But, frankly, the idea of developing the site leaves me cold. For so many reasons I almost don’t know where to begin.
I think the biggest worry I’ve got is the ethics. I don’t understand how an investor can swoop in, write a cheque and redevelop the site – a site that currently belongs to everyone – and presumably profit from it. Because as much as Mr Ni loves Crystal Palace, I doubt he’s just doing this out of the goodness of his heart.
I’m also worried that a hotel, a conference centre, whatever, won’t be open to everyone. Suddenly something that was a community asset, will be for business people; people coming from far away to visit – not the locals who value and love the park and who won’t be welcome any more. A museum could work, as could an art gallery. In fact, they’d be a great addition to the area. I’m guessing they don’t bring in the cash, though.
Apparently the park needs a massive injection of money to be restored. I’m sure that’s true. I just think there are better ways to do it.
I can see that Boris Johnson has transformed London. It’s growing, expanding, booming. Everywhere you look there are shiny buildings going up in the blink of an eye. There’s SO much money floating around and house prices are out of control. I understand that getting money from China by handing over some prized land benefits business and business people in London. I get it. But what about the normal Londoners? What about the people who live here, work here, walk their dogs here, watch their children play here? What about them? Are we going to benefit from any of this? Somehow I doubt it.