The open letter to the Crystal Palace Community (22 October 2013 – see previous news item) concerning the proposals for development of the Palace Terrace of Crystal Palace Park was signed by Mr Ni Zhaoxing, the Chair of ZhongRong Group. He stated that the “views of local people are important to me and I want to hear what you think” and “a special responsibility for me and for my company to listen and to learn from local residents”. This need for communication, or engagement, is at the heart of much of the debate about the ZongRong proposition. The CSG responds to this open letter with one of its own:
An open letter to Mr. Ni Zhaoxing, Chairman of ZhongRong Group
Dear Mr. Ni Zhaoxing,
We appreciate your interest in our park and the possibility of significant investment in its regeneration. The biggest concern is that, in reality, not enough is known at present about the detail of your proposition. We have over many years sought to protect the park from overtly commercial development taking up too much green space and also to try and find a way to improve its sad state of repair. We see that your scheme may provide a route to fulfilling both these aims.
We also appreciate your comments about community engagement and view this as a critical step to improve understanding and to allow us to participate in the development of the detail of the scheme. As your brochure states, a re-imagined Crystal Palace “must be owned and loved by the local community”.
It is true that the Crystal Palace – both in Hyde Park and then on Sydenham Hill – held a special place in the history of the UK and, indeed, was a major influence on subsequent architectural practice around the world. It was at the cutting edge of innovation and technology and, almost as much as the Great Exhibition of 1851 (which it was originally built to house), epitomised the best of British endeavour. We are now left with a park that provides much needed open space in a heavily populated urban environment but does need significant renovation.
Time has moved on and, although there are some people who would like to see the fantasy return, we should really be looking forward to a new world with new needs and aspirations. In some ways this was foreseen by the (often forgotten) fact that television was born at Crystal Palace, a hint of the phenomenal development of electronic technology to come.
The responsibility in shaping this proposition in the 21st century, you rightly say, is a serious matter and we want to look forward to a way of honouring the Paxton legacy. But this should be by an innovative and optimised use of space while still being able to incorporate much of what you suggested. This appears to have a strong cultural and community leaning but also has enough of a commercial element to provide a sustainable legacy – the balance is crucial.
One important concern of ours is that, while your proposition develops into a full-blown planning application, the many smaller projects – not least the important finance of £7.5 million from the HLF (and others) – will cease in anticipation of the new investment. Efforts to regenerate the park will once again languish and another period of uncertainty will afflict the many participants in these ventures.
We look forward to your promised engagement with the community and hope the dialogue begins as soon as possible.
Chair of Crystal Palace Park Community Stakeholder Group
Crystal Palace Park Management Board