(P176) Bromley Ultimatum - 8 February 2015 BBC News London

Ultimatum issued to ZhongRong Group over Crystal Palace rebuild plans

Tim Donovan by Tim Donovan
Political Editor
BBC London

Early crystal palace
The original [Sydenham] Crystal Palace burnt down in 1936

A Chinese developer has been given an ultimatum by a local authority to clarify its intentions for a "new" Crystal Palace or risk losing rights to the project.

Bromley Council has asked the ZhongRong Group for plans within 14 days.

The group wants to build a new cultural attraction and restore the surrounding park in Bromley.

Council leader Stephen Carr said it needed "to reassure local people" Crystal Palace Park would be improved.

The company's 16-month "exclusivity agreement" expired at the end of January. Bromley Council said it would start opening negotiations with other parties interested in developing Crystal Palace if detailed plans are not obtained.

'Former glory'

The replica palace was announced with some fanfare by Mayor Boris Johnson in October 2013.

BBC London has learned Bromley is demanding a non-refundable £ 5m deposit as a condition for extending the agreement for a further six months and has set a deadline for a response by 20 February.

The original was built in 1851 in Hyde Park but moved to Crystal Palace in 1854. It burnt down in 1936.

Hotel, conference and entertainment facilities were also promised by the developer.

In October 2013, ZhongRong Group chairman Ni Zhaoxing said: "London is renowned across the world for its history and culture and the former Crystal Palace is celebrated in China as a magnificent achievement.

"This project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring its spirit back to life by recreating the Crystal Palace and restoring the park to its former glory."

Plans were expected last autumn

The company first started discussions with the mayor about the project in 2012.

In a letter, Bromley Council has asked the ZhongRong Group to provide details, including confirmation of the identity of its lawyers and other professional advisers involved in the scheme.

The council told the developer the non-refundable deposit would be used to cover the council's costs and for future improvements in the park.

The authority said it was unclear how the company would propose to help fund and manage the park in the long-term.

Council leader Stephen Carr said: "We need to reassure local people that we remain resolutely focussed on doing everything we can to improve Crystal Palace Park and this must include securing its long term future.

"It would also be wrong to overlook the exciting potential for much needed regeneration in this part of London."

Local campaigners and political opponents have been critical of how little has been revealed so far about the proposals, and the council's willingness to negotiate with one developer.

Tom Chance, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Lewisham and Penge said: "We should get rid of these developers, and commit not to going into any more secretive deals that override the planning masterplan and local wishes."

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[COMMENT, Ed.: The proposal by ZhongRong was, at first, regarded with some scepticism but nevertheless, with the possible hope that the Master Plan could be achieved, we listened! Over the many months since the formal announcement, October 2013, very little definition of the building and, more importantly, its function has been announced. We only had the statement that it would be a "replica" (of some sort) of the original 1854 building.

In the absence of hard information, rumours abounded...what was behind the whole bid, what would the "6-star" hotel be like? would it contain gambling? an art collection? some great cultural centre? a jewellery sales floor (pearls/jade etc.)? MOST IMPORTANT - how much land was involved and what freedoms might the new owners have?

Most of the people I talk to just wish the whole ZhongRong thing would go away so we can get on with something substantial for the park and the wet-blanket which descended on the varous volunteer groups would be lifted.The starting point will be the £ 2.4million earmarked for a number of projects (starting on site 2016) within the park in keeping with the Master Plan. Also, there is a nervous feeling at the mention of talks with other developers..... perhaps the whole park should just be sold off like the proposed sale in 1912 after the Crystal Palace Company became bunkrupt; although we couldn't rely on a white knight to save the park this time round.

In spite of all the doom-and-gloom, regretably not alleviated (yet) by the Bromley ultimatum, there is also a sense of optimism that the community itself may engineer the next development phase in a much more user-friendly way.... fingers crossed!]

Even MORE....Inside Croydon:"Two years of secret meetings for the world's largest glass house"


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9/2/2015 Last Updated 9/2/2015