Press release: Athletics at the Palace on a knife edge!

Emotions ran high as former CEO of UK Athletics Dave Moorcroft led a structured two hour Athletics focus group at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (NSC) recently. It was part of the latest consultation by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to plan the NSC’s long term future, where track and field at one of the most iconic venues in the world is sitting on a knife edge!

The core of the evening was to distil ‘realistic and affordable options’ for the NSC’s future, to create a ‘vision’ for the centre, and identify its USP. Topics covered throughout the evening included discussing current usage, assessing what athletic facilities are needed now and in the future, and ideas to build and sustain athletics usage.

Dave acknowledged there had been many false starts in redeveloping the NSC, whilst the GLA no longer had an appetite to host major international events such as Diamond League meetings. He explained:

“Probably one of the most positive elements of it is that the GLA now own the site and have a commitment that doing nothing isn’t an option, so clearly the whole site GLA have to have a plan for, and that includes the sports facilities on site, and the non-sporting ones, and I think we’re quite lucky as an athletics community in getting in quite early to talk about what we’d like to do”. Dave had previously stated that, “Part of the solution is to look in five to ten years’ time to what we collectively leave behind for the likes of your children to inherit in the future.”

Over 50 people from across the South East representing athletic clubs, coaches, athletic National Governing Bodies, athletes, key stakeholders, parents and past Olympians fed into the lively discussions.

Dave’s suggestion for a traditional anchor club acting as the catalyst to growth was widely rejected by those present, making it quite unusual for track management in the UK, but “…for me it provides quite a unique opportunity to do something a little bit different, away from the traditional model of an anchor club, with everything that goes with that traditionally, because it appears you’ve got a real variety of users, of different ages, different events, different groups.” He added: “You’ve got something really special here. I think there’s an opportunity to do it differently. You can proudly say we’re part of the athletics community at Crystal Palace. It isn’t what it used to be, but what it is now is something that is really dynamic, really different, brings in different event groups, runners, and has a different sense of belonging.”

John Powell MBE, Chair of Crystal Palace Sports Partnership (CPSP) and resident sprints coach at the NSC for over 40 years stated, “The key to the future, moving forward and being successful, is a good integrated multi-sport solution, based on an athletics facility that would appeal to many sports and not just track and field. We can’t have a stand-alone facility; it’s not a viable business solution. This also has to work alongside an improved management model and a robust marketing strategy for the whole Centre, which has been completely absent for many years now. As part of the approved Crystal Palace Park Masterplan, the NSC already has outline planning permission for an integrated new regional sports centre with a re-provided indoor track.” 

With a show of hands there was an overwhelming consensus by the end of the evening for an NSC that included:

  • Retaining the indoor track – (or re-providing it as part of a dedicated multi-sport facility)
  • An NSC vision that’s a regional centre, anchored on outreach, training, coaching and events
  • The return of a club house to provide a sense of community
  • A track that is easy to access with integrated trackside facilities such as physiotherapy and weights room
  • Spectator seating for regional events

Still many questions remain, not least funding, “What is a realistic and affordable centre when the overall demolition costs for current two stadia and indoor track could already be into the millions?” states John Powell, “Many of us have heard this all before, with the last GLA review undertaken as recently as 2015 by CSM costing £75,000. Since then there have been repeated examples of seeing facilities rot and be neglected, part of years and years of steady managed decline.”

As Patrick Dubeck, the GLA Project lead concluded, This is the start of the process. It is the beginning of having conversations with people about what a vision looks like, what the future looks like… The problem is, we don’t know what funders, the Mayor even, are willing to invest, until we have a compelling vision to put forward for a future multi-sport centre might be.” He also reminded the attendees that any plans have to compliment the regeneration of Crystal Palace Park, within which the NSC sits, currently being undertaken by Bromley Council.

On behalf of the GLA the consultation is being undertaken by Neil Allen Associates who are compiling the NSC sports and facilities needs from this piece of work (for all sports including athletics and event needs). Their results will feed into new ‘development options’ to be seen later in the year, being run under a separate piece of work led by the GLA.

Remaining engagements (pre-registration required)

Focus Groups meetings  (at CP NSC Lodge)

NSC drop in session (in CP NSC main hall):

  • Tuesday 13th February (10am – 8pm)

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Update: 31st January 2018