Friday, 30 January 2015

Crystal Palace; nothing happening very slowly

By the time something is done with the north terrace of Crystal Palace Park - the site of Joseph Paxton's masterpiece and now little more than waste ground - I would not at all be surprised if the construction of HS2 to Manchester had long been completed and we were all used to travelling on Crossrail 2. Such is the complexity of the site, coupled with the various interested parties, it is very tricky to make any progress. And so it comes as no great surprise to learn that the exclusivity deal signed between Bromley Council and the Chinese ZhongRong group - who want to spend £500million rebuilding a version of the palace - has come to an end with little evidence of progress being made.

A quick recap of the original timetable:

Early 2014 - Shortlist of architects selected. This was achieved and the six firms - the usual suspects for such a high profile project - can be found here

Autumn 2014 - Architect selected and a planning application submitted

Winter 2015 - Building work begins

The last two have got utterly nowhere. The hoped-for schedule was always wildly optimistic and so it has proved. The notion that a planning application of such magnitude would be passed so swiftly, especially considering widespread opposition from local groups, was absurd. I should add that the scheme does, or perhaps did, have support from some residents and local businesses, impressed by the scale and potential of the project. They have, however, become increasingly hard to track down.

The main sticking point seems to be that the Chinese firm want to take over large swathes of the public park and Bromley Council have not received sufficient assurances over access to the land or, indeed, what on earth they would put in a new palace once it was built.

Bromley Council are very keen to stress that just because the exclusivity deal is over, does not mean talks with ZhongRong have ended. They continue. In a statement, dated Monday February 2, council leader Stephen Carr says the following:

'These have been and remain complex proposals. The potential to completely restore and improve the park as well as regeneration for the surrounding area is something we cannot ignore. Equally, the Council is not going to agree to something without being confident about the proposals as we are custodians of this fantastic park.'

He adds:

'Whilst we are no longer bound by an exclusivity agreement, the confidential discussions have not concluded and these continue with ZhongRong. Local people and other interested parties should know that when there is something to say, we will keep them informed as we have sought to do all the way along this process and I thank them for their continued patience.'

From Bromley's perspective, it is easy to see their point. Someone is offering a huge amount of money to regenerate a pitifully neglected spot and while it is a huge pity Heritage Lottery Fund money has been lost, AGAIN, it is a pittance in comparison to the quantity being talked about by this Chinese firm. But one must question whether a project on this scale was ever vaguely realistic.

The Greens were first out of the traps this morning (Friday January 30) calling for the scheme to be scrapped. Tom Chance, the party's candidate for Lewisham West and Penge, said:

'The idea of building a huge hotel and conference centre on our park was wrong, the consultation process was hopeless, and the consequences have included community groups blocked from improving our park, the loss of millions of pounds of lottery funding, and a huge amount of anger and resentment among local people.

'Bromley and the GLA need to stop messing around with fantasy projects and send the ZhongRong group packing.'

And he has his own ideas as to what should happen now:

'If they set-up a Community Land Trust to govern the park's future this could find viable ways to implement the adopted masterplan incrementally without losing large areas of the park to private ownership and commercial buildings. 

'The council could also work with local environmental groups to turn the scrub and woodland on the hill top into a popular local nature reserve within the next six months, instead of denigrating it as a waste of space and trying to concrete it over.'

Personally, I'm sure Bromley will persist for a while longer but I expect ZhongRong to eventually slink away and the council will be forced to return to the masterplan. The gleaming building, below, which dazzled the easily-bedazzled Boris Johnson so looks increasingly unlikely ever to emerge. I doubt even Joanna Lumley's smile would be enough to rescue this.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A story that Beggar's Belief!

Above is the front page of the latest Ayrshire Post (January 9). It claims to be an 'expose' of the beggars in Ayr but the language is so extraordinarily inflammatory and unpleasant the editor, and the writer, should feel thoroughly ashamed.

It reads:

Brazen beggars are coining in up to £200 a day on the streets of Ayr.
Roving East European gangs and lone-wolf Scottish scroungers are plaguing Ayr for rich pickings.
Now we can reveal new get-tough moves aimed at unsettling them are to sweep into action.
And there is vast backing to BANISH them from the town centre for good.
Our expose this week captures the panhandling pests on camera as they beg for cash help, typically waving worn polystyrene coffee cups.
Tourists and residents loathe them sitting on the public pavements.
But in recent weeks dozens of shameless beggars have preyed on people's consciences and targeted the High Street area during the Christmas spree.

It is thought that ALL the Eastern Europeans involved are transported from immigrant enclaves in the central belt.
And one woman beggar has a warm and cosy council tenancy ..... [bile turns to page 5.]

And this was just on the front page.

Looking at the use of language more closely, let's pursue it a little more:

Brazen beggars - these people have the temerity to be outside;

Roving East European gangs - run for your lives, there are hordes of foreigners on the lose;

new get-tough moves aimed at unsettling them are to sweep into action... to BANISH them...for good - these people will be swept away like litter from the gutter. Or Jews from Poland.

Tourists and residents loathe them sitting on the public pavements - because they're litter and shouldn't be on public benches. Only the gutter for them;

dozens of shameless beggars have preyed on people's consciences... during the Christmas spree - not only do these guttersnipes have the temerity to be outside, they also open their mouths and hunt down innocent Christmas shoppers in packs. And why, of all times, do they do this at Christmas? Christmas is a time for giving presents, not giving to scroungers (check Bible to be sure this is right Ed.)

one woman beggar has a warm and cosy council tenancy - look, she's not even bloody homeless. She's conning you.

Now, begging of any sort is not pleasant for either the beggar or the, erm, beggee. For those who are asked for money it can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and genuinely intimidating.

And people who find themselves on the streets, begging, frequently include the most vulnerable in society; those with mental health problems, the unemployed, the lonely, the abandoned, people who simply find the process of coping day by day impossibly difficult. And people begging on the streets does also include organised criminal gangs, sometimes forcing trafficked people into prostitution and to ask for money on the streets.

But, for the Ayrshire Post, there seems to be only two sorts of 'beggars': 'roving East European gangs' and 'lone-wolf Scottish scroungers' and no one else.

The Ayrshire Post's report comes just two days after Shelter Scotland - who have declined to comment on the Ayrshire Post's story - published a report that, on the one hand, finds that homeless applications in Scotland have thankfully decreased by 34 per cent in the last five years; but also identifies an 38% rise in applications from the private rented sector. The report can be found here.

Part of me wonders if there has been a dreadful editorial mistake. Surely no sane reporter, sub-editor or editor could have allowed such copy to be published. Perhaps there was a system error and a 'jokey' draft 'story' was accidentally sent to the printers, Maybe we will hear a heartfelt apology before too long. I genuinely hope that will prove to be the case, otherwise what has been published is simply vile.

But, for now, people seem to be getting pretty outraged by the paper's stance offering plenty of comments like these:

(thanks/apologies to contributing tweets & pics from @Ayrshire Greens, @gavincorbett and @MartynMcL)

Nous Sommes Charlie




BERLIN (via @tquitoioBismuth)

MADRID (via @LPJ_Espagne)