Crystal Palace Park- we won!
Green space saved for London after lengthy campaign
By Ruby Toogood 15.05.01
As the press release put it: yesterday 'Bromley Council announced it will notify London and Regional Properties of its intention to terminate the agreement to develop the derelict site of the former Crystal Palace as L&R have failed to complete the Lease within the prescribed period.'
Basically, negotiations between the council and the developers have collapsed, and the plan to build a monstrous 18 screen cinema multiplex on the highest spot in South London, on beautiful green open space, with virtually no consultation of local residents and in the face of furious grassroots opposition, lies in ruins.
So what is the situation now?
1) There is still current planning permission for this development until March 2002. Theoretically, Bromley could patch up their differences with London and Regional Properties, or find an alternative developer, although it looks as if the relationship with L&R has broken down completely, and I cannot imagine any other developer would want to touch it with a bargepole after the amount of hassle we managed to put everyone through.
2) Bromley are considering legal action against L&R. Most likely they will attempt to recover some of the costs they have incurred as a result of this ridiculous scheme, e.g. the costs of securing the site while waiting for development to start, but a court *could* order L&R to fulfil the conditions of their contract- we don't know what these are. (This is unlikely.)
3) The tree cover and some of the vegetation surrounding the site have so far been protected by the occupation of the protesters, and after that by the Wildlife and Countryside Act which forbids destroying the habitat of nesting birds.
However, Bromley could still do anything they like to the site, fell all the trees, bulldoze everything, and concrete it over for a car park. We have no idea what their next move is.
They have already proved that they are environmental vandals with no respect for the park during its current 'restoration', which has involved the felling of hundreds, if not thousands, of healthy mature and young trees including oak and yew trees which were several hundred years old (this is in areas of the park other than the development site).
4) Bromley's Unitary Development Plan, governing future planning decisions for the borough, contains proposals for Metropolitan Open Land status (similar to Green Belt) to be removed from the site, which would remove any remaining protection against its development, and also proposals which would increase the possibility of the sports complex in the middle of the park being massively expanded. This is currently being contested.
5) Diane Barker, to whom much respect is due, is planning to continue her court case against Bromley regarding their failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment. She goes to the Court of Appeal in October.
6) The European Commission, which received submissions on the same subject from local residents, has requested information from the UK government to take into consideration while it is deciding whether or not to take legal action against them. The government has failed to reply within the required time limit.
7) The European Parliament will also be holding an inquiry on related matters after submissions from local residents.
8) Geraint Davies, MP (Conservative, Croydon Central),has introduced a bill to Parliament which would transfer the ownership of the park to the Greater London Authority and prevent specific types of leisure development; this has had its first reading. Many local people have called for the GLA to be given charge of the park as it used to belong to the GLC and lies on the boundary between five separate boroughs.
This has been one of the greatest sources of anger about the development as most of the negative fallout from it would impact on boroughs other than Bromley. There is a web poll on his site. www.geraintdavies.org.uk/ Phew! Thank you, Storm.
So, essentially, we have won, (YOOHOO!!!!!) as there seems virtually no prospect of the development as it stands being built.
However, there is still work to be done in ensuring that neither this nor any other development takes place on this site- I should add that many local people support some form of development on the site as long as it is with adequate consultation and full consideration of the environmental and social impact, and as long as it has respect for the history and aesthetics of the land, although others, myself included, would prefer it to be left as open space, preferably wild .
This was not the first development plan for this piece of land and it may not be the last; the previous one was based around a hotel and funded with Kuwaiti money, and only fell through because of the Gulf War.
Why did we win? Basically, since 1997, this has been a war of attrition between the locals and Bromley, with residents and activists fighting the battle on all fronts, legal, political and through direct action. We have managed to hold off the development for four years or more, and in this the occupation of the site by protesters played a crucial part, by holding up proceedings for a whole year during a critical period.
The numerous legal actions too, whilst none of them has (yet) been won, helped generally to hold things up, throw a spanner in the works, cost Bromley loads of money and generally piss them off. Bromley are left with egg all over their faces, having wasted probably over £13m (conservative estimate) on legal costs and on evicting the protesters and subsequently fencing off the site with 24 hour security guards for two years.
They would only have made £6m from the sale of the site to the developers in the first place!(and this was a gross undervaluing of the land). If anyone ever tries to tell you that direct action doesn’t work, you now have something to throw back in their faces.
We also achieved this despite the fact that the opposition to the development was split almost from the outset between the Crystal Palace Campaign (mostly middle-class/homeowning/play it by the book types) on the one hand and the loosely formed Crystal Palace Protest, wildlife groups, camp-dwellers, fuck-the-media types and everyone else on the other.
This was partly due to the fact that Bromley threatened to sue the arse off the Campaign if they supported the protest site and recover the costs of the eviction from them personally (needless to say this never happened). The original purpose of the scheme, according to Bromley, was to regenerate the area by enabling them to get match funding, and they threatened the local community with the withdrawal of regeneration projects if the building of the leisure complex was prevented; however, they now state that the regeneration is successfully going ahead anyway! So what now?
The current word on the street is that the fences will be coming down within ten days, after the state of the land has been assessed as to its safety. If true, WHOOOOOPEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And watch this space.... (did someone mention something about a party?)