Plans being drawn up for regeneration of this historic Grade II* park are nearing conclusion with a master plan expected to be finalised this summer, followed by a planning application to implement this being made to Bromley Council, the local planning authority, in September 2007.
The background to the present position is that following Bromley's withdrawal of its abortive multiplex cinema project in May 2001 in the face of fierce local opposition, including that of the Dulwich Society, a Stakeholders' Dialogue Process, led by an independent facilitator, was set up in 2002 to consider the future of the park and of the National Sports Centre that it hosts. The aim of the dialogue was to establish a consultation process between the local community and the authorities responsible for the park. The matters that the dialogue addressed were the future of the National Sports Centre, which since the 1960s has dominated the centre of the park; the regeneration of the remainder of the park, and governance and management issues.
The dialogue process, which still continues, consists of a Main Group on which is represented about 200 self-selected local individuals and organisations concerned about the park, and which meets about four times a year. In addition there is a much smaller Park Working Group of about 20 local stakeholders, including the Dulwich Society and other amenity groups and various public bodies and their advisers, which meets about monthly. Finally there is an even smaller Sports Working Group mainly concerned with sporting activities in the park, which also has frequent meetings. The dialogue was initially conducted with Bromley, who funded it, as the owners and managers of the park, but they never showed much enthusiasm for major regeneration (though they did undertake restoration of the dinosaur area and other restoration works, not always successfully).
In late 2005 the London Development Agency, part of the Greater London Authority, became seriously involved in Crystal Palace and took over the lease of the NSC in the summer of 2006 and has an option until March 2009 to take over the running of the rest of the park. They are now major players in the dialogue process and fund it. In the view of the writer they have shown a genuine interest in consulting with the local community through the dialogue. In the autumn of 2006 the LDA appointed Tilman Latz and Partners as master planners with the brief to prepare a master plan for the regeneration of the park as a whole which was to be the basis of a planning application to Bromley. Latz is a leading international firm of landscape architects with an impressive record on the restoration or creation of public parks on the Continent and further afield. Since their appointment, Latz have participated strongly in the dialogue process and have kept it informed of the evolution of their ideas for restoration. In general their ideas have been well received by the community, though their plans are not yet finalised.
Currently their plans envisage leaving the top site open with a tree-lined broad walk and no large building, though there may be a viewing tower and the Crystal Palace museum may be relocated to be adjacent to the vaulted subway, now inaccessible, under Crystal Palace Parade which was the main access to the old Crystal Palace. The plans also envisage the greening of the centre of the park, which is now largely taken up by sports facilities, roads and car parks. It is planned that the sports centre will be relocated to a site between Crystal Palace station and the existing athletics stadium, which will remain. The new centre will be regional rather than national, but should consist of state-of-the-art facilities, including a 50 metre swimming pool and diving facilities (see page ?). Its structure will be put out to an international design contest. It was originally hoped that construction work on this would commence before 2010 but the Mayor of London has decided, without consultation with the dialogue process, that this will not now commence until after the 2012 Olympic Games.
It was never intended that Crystal Palace would be part of the facilities for the Games, though it will have a role for training. It had originally been proposed by the LDA that the present NSC building be demolished but, this being Grade II listed and widely regarded as an iconic example of 20th century architecture, it became apparent that English Heritage was unlikely to support its demolition. The LDA has therefore decided that the shell of the building should remain as a dry-sports area, though the surrounding unsightly concrete walkways and tarmac will again become open green space. Through this will run a restoration of Paxton's central walkway through the park, lined by a series of small defined spaces for various recreational uses. The swimming pool in the NSC will be closed, though temporary arrangements will be made for continuation of swimming until the new pool is built, either in a new 50 metre temporary pool near the station or in the existing NSC building, with upgraded servicing plant as the existing plant is on its last legs and could fail at any time. No decision has yet been made on this. As a start to the greening of the park, the existing ugly turnstiles and concrete bridge near the station are in the process of being removed. It is estimated that the new sports centre will cost in the region of £50 million and the restoration of the remainder of the park an additional £35 to 50 million.
Though most of the current proposals are widely supported, there remain a number of points which are highly controversial. Opposed by some people is a proposal to establish on the site of the presently disused "farm" buildings (which have suffered fire damage) a youth training centre for horticulture and animal husbandry. Subject to planning permission from Bromley, this will be run by Capel Manor who have a number of similar centres around London. Present plans involve no new buildings other than a greenhouse and the proposals will make it possible for there to be again a range of animals in the park, including guinea pigs, alpacas, Shetland ponies and small reptiles. It is intended that the new farm will be open to the public, especially children, four to five afternoons a week free of charge, with school parties able to visit in the mornings.
Most contentious are proposals for building housing in parts of the periphery of the park, mainly near the Rockhills Gate (at the junction of Crystal Palace Parade and Westwood Hill) and to a lesser extent at the Sydenham Gate (near the current car park opposite Sydenham Avenue). The LDA has proposed this to raise funds to finance some of the improvements in the park, though despite numerous requests it has not yet indicated what will be lost if finance from this source is not forthcoming. Its plan for the Rockhills Gate is to recover the six acre site on Metropolitan Open Land which is currently occupied by the Caravan Club (and not open to park users) and to build the housing on two acres of this nearest Westwood Hill and to return the other four acres to the park. The Caravan Club has this land on long lease and the LDA's plans are dependent on their being induced to give up their lease and move to a site somewhere else in London. Currently it appears that the Caravan Club has no intention of moving. The possible housing near the Sydenham Gate is less contentious as it is not on MOL and would be mainly infilling between existing villas, though many find objectionable the proposal for a four story apartment block on the site of the lodge by the entrance to the car park. The LDA's original proposal to build additional apartments and commercial buildings at the Norwood Gate (at the top of Anerley Hill) has been dropped as a result of public pressure.