As a long-time resident, I have seen Crystal Palace become gentrified. There’s an artisan bakery now, a friendly independent bookshop, a charming indoor market, and some decent pubs and restaurants, including an outstanding Thai establishment. A new rail connection arrived a few years ago and has transformed our connections with central London.
All great, I guess. But now we south Londoners are being told that some random Chinese billionaire wants to perform the ultimate act of restoration for our little corner of the capital – to rebuild our magnificent, glass-and-iron Victorian palace, lost to fire in 1936. This “new” palace is a mere distraction. After the accompanying conference centre, the housing, the hotel and the cinema have been erected, we locals will have very little of our lovely park left. Even the best replica of Paxton’s masterpiece would be a miserable compensation for that – and I doubt it would match the artist’s impressions being punted around.
I notice Boris Johnson is in favour of it: all I can say is that he lives some distance away and I haven’t seen him in the Grape and Grain lately. Would he be so enthusiastic about a property developer vandalising his native Islington, say, or Ealing Common, or Regents Park? Unthinkable, all.
Just as the Crystal Palace was once a people’s palace, so is our park the people’s park – and it is not for sale at any price.