It was right that the Mayor of London took over the fragmented and neglected Crystal Palace Park. The LDA developed a restoration masterplan for the Paxton landscape which has now been partially funded and is in the process of being implemented. Uncertainty surrounds two sites, the former Crystal Palace, where an architectural masterplan is soon to be launched under Arups aegis for ZRG groups plan to rebuild the Place. I wont be concerned with that here. The other uncertain site is the national athletics centre, now redundant after the Olympic Site (at least as a national athletics centres) and Grade II listed. The Swimming pool site and surrounds are to be restored, great, but rather bizarrely Boris has consulted on plans to develop within the sports centre structure a free school and college. This seems to stem more from Boris desire to use the limited GLA landholding for free school where he can rather than a rational consideration of the best use of the site. Boris is consulting on four options for the outdoor sports arena. Two would lead to the track being demolished altogether, and two would see the only the stands removed. All options include building a college and a free school.
Schools however well designed will always need to secure their perimeter. They are not an appropriate use on Green Belt or MOL. MOL policy in the London plan is now stricter than Green Belt since the NPPF came out as you cannot simply develop inappropriate uses on previously developed sites if you meet the openness test. There is still a presumption against development.
Large sports uses even if not open to the public are acceptable uses because they are synergetic to the open space. By contrast you only put schools on MOL if you have nowhere else to put them.
A good parallel with Crystal Palace is Gorky Park in Moscow – with a masterplan by London’s LDA design. Originally designed as a constructionist public, left to episodic development and neglect and now restored. There is an excellent piece on the restoration in todays Guardian.
Following the wildly popular transformation of Gorky Park, presided over by “Moscow’s hipster culture minister” Sergey Kapkov, the renovation of the city’s public spaces has become a priority for those in the municipal government. In 2011, the Soviet-era park underwent a multimillion dollar revamp; out went the rusting funfair rides and passed-out drunks and in came ping-pong tables, a contemporary art gallery, free Wi-Fi and a dozen new cafes and bars. For the first time in years, Muscovites felt as if their city was becoming liveable.
This, and similar projects such as the Berlin Templehof park plan, should be the model. A creative fun place. There is always a danger than Crystal Palace is treated with high Victorian mannerism (for example locala who turned their noses up at being able to buy a drink there!) rather than the palace and park of fun it was meant to be – with colourful dinosaurs, family’s flocking their and Nikki Lauder and James Hunt bombing around their in Minis.
The school plans by CSM Strategic, with FMG Consulting and GT Architects are deathly dull and not up to the standard we should accept for this London wide resource. The school would be nothing more than a concrete fortress.
What I think should happen is that the former athletics track should become a public square (which is now the plan for some of Brazils white elephgant world cup stadiums) around which are raked active frontage creative uses in the former stands.