(P175) Private Eye 31 October 2014
Tory connections are proving useful in helping Boris Johnson’s scheme to turn a proposed takeover of London’s Crystal Palace Park by Chinese developers ZhongRong into reality.
The plan, which the London Mayor announced in October 2013, includes a new “Crystal Palace”, replacing the Victorian building that burned down in 1936. The vague, secretive plan also gives ZhongRong the right to build a hotel, conference centre and shops in the middle of a grade 2 listed public park.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) and the London borough of Bromley are in “exclusive” secret talks on the deal with the Shanghai based developer, with little competition or public scrutiny. Documents show ZhongRong hired Xuelin Bates – who donated £162,000 to the Conservative party and is the wife of home office minister Lord Bates – to help run the deal. Xuelin appears on a “memorandum of understanding” secretly signed by Johnson’s office, Bromley and ZhongRong four months before the public announcement. Xuelin is named as a ZhongRong representative and given a place on a “steering group”.
The mayor’s office said this memorandum had been superseded by an “exclusivity agreement” with ZhongRong, adding that the originals steering group never met so it was “not aware” if Xuelin still worked for ZhongRong. The Eye also phoned ZhongRong’s representative, but received no reply.
Meanwhile, the GLA hired sports advisory firm CSM – run by Lord (Seb) Coe – for a “consultation” on the nearby Crystal Palace athletics stadium. Last month Coe’s firm came up with proposals for consultation – which involved demolishing the stadium. Conveniently, CSM’s own press release says it was keen to work for ZhongRong, saying its proposals “take account of the ZhongRong Group’s aspirations to rebuild the original Crystal Palace”.
ZhongRong has little track record beyond building tower blocks in Shanghai, so the involvement of these politically connected insiders may be the only way to push through the Boris-backed scheme to commercialise one of London’s most famous parks.
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3/2/2014 Last Updated 3/2/2014