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Livingstone brands RHWL Crystal Palace 'cheapskate'

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London mayor Ken Livingstone last week waded into the controversy about the multiplex leisure development at Crystal Palace Park. He branded its current architects RHWL 'cheapskate' and warned that they will 'downgrade the development'.

Livingstone's remarks follow the AJ's revelation (AJ 17.8.00) that the developer has replaced Ian Ritchie Architects with RHWL after the £60 million scheme had already been awarded planning permission.

'Very often the developer will get a good, wellrespected architect when they put in their planning application, ' said Livingstone. 'Once they've got planning they then go for some cheapskate and then downgrade the development. That's exactly what has happened at Crystal Palace, which makes it even more of a scandal.'He also branded the scheme 'monstrous'.

The scheme's developer, London and Regional Properties, leapt to the defence of RHWL.

'This is just his opinion, ' said managing director, Geoff Springer. 'RHWL are a superb firm and the quality of their work is first class.The elevations and the internal spaces have not changed one inch from Mr Ritchie's scheme. It's down to the mayor's advisors to brief him correctly.'

'We are absolutely not cheapskate, ' said RHWL project architect Richard Abbott. 'We are building Ritchie's scheme and using Ritchie's drawings.'

Livingstone's opposition to the cinema and entertainment complex has come too late for local campaigners opposed to the scheme because the mayor has no legal authority to overturn a planning permission which has already been awarded.

But Livingstone pledged to watch the project closely and added that 'where we have green spaces in London they should be defended, nor eroded'.

Livingstone has already attacked the developer's application for 14 liquor licences on the scheme and said 'it sounds suspiciously like the worst aspects of living in Soho'. He pledged that the Greater London Authority would become involved to help stop the licences.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment warns against the substitution of architects on schemes.

'There have been a few examples of this being a problem, even if it was not done cynically, ' said CABE spokesman Robert Bargery. His examples included EPR's replacement of Foster and Partner's LIFFE building at Spitalfields in London, and the same practice's replacement of Richard Horden Associates' headquarters for the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR).

EPR managing director Greg Craig refused to comment on the Spitalfields development but said that there has been a misconception over the DETR's E l a n d Hou s e .

'In this case it was an entirely new and different commission which we took on in entirely new circumstances, ' he said. 'It was twice the size and we even needed to get a new planning permission.'

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