Private Eye's architectural writer, Piloti, doesn't often praise a scheme preferring to target nefarious, crude, developers, but in this fortnight's edition he is effusive about the prospect of a new Crystal Palace, invoking John Betjeman. He writes:
The site of the Crystal Palace on top of Sydenham Hill must be the most desolate and sad in Britain.
Proposals to build there ahve been unsatisfactory and come to nothing. but now, surprisingly, a Chinese billionaire, Ni Zhaoxing, of the developer ZhongRong holdings, proposes to recreate Paxton's iron and glass creation on the site (with a modern interior). Opposition has already emerged, both from ideologues who disapprove of replicas and from people who think the present rubbish on the site is worth retaining. But surely this is a wonderful idea - provided the 1854 structure is rebuilt accurately and in its entirety.
'Let's Build Another One!' wrote John Betjeman, sainted founder of this column, in 1936 after the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. 'It is an emblem of all that was best in the great Victorian age, when England was prosperous and full of hope; when she was bolder than she is now...There would be nothing sentimental in rebuilding this greatest of Victorian cathedrals.' Quite so.
Piloti's voice is not just a lonely shout from the wilderness. These plans do have local support, and plenty of detractors, as I have found speaking to locals and also peaking at forums such as this. Here's a few examples:
The white flag is quickly raised: 'Time to emigrate' was an early cry but others quickly issued a call to action, 'Time to fight', seemingly winning the argument as the first worrier replied 'wouldn't emigrate without fighting.'
Some are prepared for it to be given a chance:
'I think people are too quick off the mark to condemn this project, without knowing exactly what the plans are.
'Crystal Palace today (as well as the name) would not be anything like it is today without the 'delapitedated' (sic) palace mentioned.
The traffic concerns are completely without evidence. How many people drive to museums in London? Really.
I think this would be miles better than any other scenario, no housing, check. No need for funding for upkeep of the park, check. Keeping to the original footprint, check.
Crystal Palace IS the Crystal Palace. If well done, we should not stand in the way of good progress.
Wait and see before poo pooing it. It's not a cinema, a flying saucer or a 'Westfield'. Be careful what you wish for.'
While another said:
'As long as it's done with consideration and minimal disruption, then it should be supported. Will have a good effect on the house prices too, and good for tackling crime; they would have to bring in more police and security. More money in the local economy is a good thing overall. They should have rebuilt it before. If the only bit they're gonna rebuild is on the old Palace footprint, then that's great. If they improve public transport, that's great. Don't torpedo the idea. Help to shape it and make sure it serves local interests.
But there's a hefty dose of scepticism:
'We need to see what are these plans for CP. If the financial model (occupancy/returns etc) make sense. The impact on the community (traffic pollution, jobs etc). Then we can draw some conclusions.
At the moment I can only see some shady way to present this project to the media as if it was a done deal, no local consultation and sketchy information about the structure itself.... on the basis of current (limited) information the building makes very little sense.....'
And local councillor John Getgood falls into this category:
'There are so many unanswered questions. I am just musing at the moment, trying to put it all together. Anyone who remembers the debate on the Master Plan will know that once I have adopted a position, I will argue firmly for it but we cannot be said to be at the stage here yet. I have asked for clarification from the council on the ownership issues. They are not clear.'
Others have made their minds up:
'Trouble is, it's not just going to be a museum, the plans include shopping, a hotel, eateries of various types, I really do think traffic is going to be a problem.
Also the original footprint includes some the current bus station, so I wonder what they'll do about that.
I'm not being a nimby, and I'm certainly not a pointless poopooer (is that even a word? - Ed), but I work in the construction industry, and I know how much of an environmental impact this will have on the park, as it's built, and I also know what much plans change between the 'pretty CGI pictures' stage, and the 'bog standard piece of shit' eventuality, I've see it happen.
Personally, I'd like to see a good clean up and reforestry sort of thing on the top terraces, keep it green, basically.'
And there are some who really hope it will all help the local football club:
'The devil is in the detail I guess but generally I think I'm for it in principle - that part of the park has been left to rot for a long time and lot of it hasn't been accessible to the public for many years....think overall it will be good for the local economy and put South London a bit more on the map. Maybe he will double up and Buy CPFC aswell!
Note: Today Bromley Council gave exclusive rights for 16 months to the developers to give them an opportunity to move on with their plans. This means, they will have until February 2015 to amplify their ideas and consult with the community, before they submit a planning application. There's more information here.