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.'
'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.