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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 07:47 GMT
My London: Keep off the grass
Philip Kolvin
Mr Kolvin felt saving the park was also about democracy
Planning barrister Philip Kolvin battled to keep part of a south London park he loves from being turned into a cinema multiplex. The campaign was a success and now the 42-year-old is helping to find a solution to the question of what should replace Joseph Paxton's original Crystal Palace.

I offered the Crystal Palace Campaign some legal help and then in March 1998 they said I should become chairman.

We thought the multiplex scheme was ghastly. It was the wrong scheme. It paid no attention to the heritage of the park.

I'm not anti-development, I'm pro-sustainable regeneration. I think we've got a responsibility and we shouldn't get into the principle that just because a park is falling into a derelict state, just because it's slipping, that we should then build on it.

I had spent a year in Sheffield working on their Unitary Development Plan (UDP).

It made me realise that the preservation of green space in urban areas was a problem and we need to do all we can to protect it.

I told them I need £25,000 by the end of the week - I had £25,000 by the end of the meeting
Philip Kolvin
My first reaction as a lawyer was to beat the multiplex through litigation. We ran a case through the High court attacking planning because we wanted it delayed.

I really did feel very passionate about it. It's not just a regeneration issue. It's about democracy. The views of local people weren't being listened to.

In June 1998, around 600 people attended a meeting and I told them I didn't know if we could win the case to halt the multiplex but to hold it up we'd need to start a judicial review.

I told them I needed £25,000 by the end of the week - I had £25,000 by the end of the meeting.

An elderly lady came up and said she really believed in what we were doing. She gave me a £1,500 cheque there and then.

Crystal Palace proposal
Architects came up with this design for the park
We also had two backers who gave me long-term underwriting of £10,000 apiece.

Sadly we lost the judicial review.

After the defeat I went for a run along the ridge on the top of Crystal Palace Park. It's incredibly beautiful. It's awe-inspiring.

I couldn't have lived with that building [multiplex] there.

I went home and threw myself on the bed and then it came to me - a boycott.

Picket lines

It's the moment that changed my life. I realised law only has a small part to play in defeating development proposals.

We set about poisoning the multiplex scheme.

We worked out which cinema company was involved and asked them not to take part.

They didn't think that was a good idea so we started a campaign and held a march against them. We also set up pickets across the country outside their cinemas.

The protest ran from Strathclyde to Poole - I did Strathclyde with my wife and my six-month old daughter. About 60 people ended up holding placards there. People really wanted to help even though we told them our park was 500 miles away - they were fantastic.

The plans fell apart and it was time for us to take a step back
Philip Kolvin
We then objected to the licensing application. We spent a lot of our money opposing that and won.

Ken Livingstone opposed it, as did local councillors.

They [multiplex people] applied for 14 pub licences and were granted one. It was a fantastic day.

We produced an alternative prospectus to demonstrate how the campaign could create an economic and PR disaster for anyone who associated themselves with the development.

We sent it to the chairmen and managing directors of the 100 biggest leisure companies in the world.

We got some hostile letters back and some that said what a fantastic way of campaigning.

Finally the plans fell apart. Then it was time for us to take a step back.

Community support

We held a meeting and all interested groups in the park were invited, whether seen as nice or nasty, horrible or endearing. We invited everybody.

When everyone was in the room we handed over leadership. We needed an independent person to run this, not leadership from within. Everyone to be seen on an equal basis.

The working group has now been running for over 18 months - all those warring factions are now able to talk to each other.

I got in touch with the architect Chris Wilkinson - it's amazing that when you ask people to give up their time for free for a truly remarkable project they will.

He came up with a possible design for the top of the park. It's fantastic. It would be a world class piece of architecture just like the original Crystal Palace.

We need all sectors of the community to support what happens next, whatever that is.


My London is a series of features about life in the city which will be on News Online every Monday. If you have a story suggestion please send an e-mail to: londonnews@bbc.co.uk.




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