On 3rd October London Mayor Boris Johnson officially unveiled a proposal to rebuild the Crystal Palace. The building will replicate the original in size and shape (though hopefully it will be fire-proof this time) and is likely to house an exhibition centre, and possibly a hotel and other commercial uses. The scheme also involves the restoration of the park to its original Victorian plan and will be funded by a Chinese property billionaire, Mr Ni Zhaoxing, Chairman of the ZhongRong Group based in Shanghai.
Mr Ni, whose art collection apparently stretches from ancient relics to ‘world-class oil paintings’, said he was inspired to rebuild the palace on visits to the UK while his two daughters studied here. He said the project was “just like falling in love, getting married and having a child”, adding “It’s long-term hard work I can pass down to the next generation, it’s like planting a tree in Crystal Palace to grow, then I can bring the tree to others. The whole world will enjoy the shade, local residents foremost, and once it has fruit on it you will profit the most – London the city and the people of London.”
Not everyone of course shares his enthusiasm. There were several protesters at the announcement and it is reported that some Bromley councillors fear the ambitious scheme will choke one of London’s vital green spaces.
From a Dulwich point of view, a major public facility nearby could be welcome, remembering of course that this is not the first proposal to rebuild on the site in recent years - Bromley Council had a similar scheme in the early 1990s, which they were unable to fund, and a proposed cineplex complex also fell away in the late 1990s when the full traffic implications were realised. The problem with Crystal Place is the lack of public transport access – buses cannot cope with the potential numbers nor can Crystal Place low level station (don’t forget in Victorian times there was a dedicated station nearby – Crystal Place High level – with four platforms and very frequent services). People will drive to it (there will have to be huge underground car parks) and Dulwich sits on the route south from central London. Dulwich Village is not very wide and the Tollgate on College Road will force drivers onto parallel roads, Croxted Road (which can hardly cope at the moment) Alleyn Road and Alleyn Park.