Do you worry when countries have words like “democratic” and “people’s republic” in their name? If you do then perhaps you also worry when companies put words like “regeneration” in their title? What’s with the need to spell it all out? You’re wondering what relevance that has to Twickenham? Well, there is none. There is none because Solum Regeneration is not the People’s Democratic Republic of Solum, they’re here to help Twickenham. Or are they? The Network Rail / Kier joint venture has now submitted its plans for the redevelopment of Twickenham Station. The details aren’t yet up on the Richmond Council’s planning pages but according to the Richmond and Twickenham Times website the plans have been scaled back from what had been trailed previously by Solum. Thanks guys! Perhaps many readers feel that their salaries, houses and cars are scaled back versions of what they’d have if they were free to run their own countries.

The good folk of TRAG (Twickenham Residents Action Group) have told twickerati that the changes are merely a nip here and a tuck there leaving the scheme essentially the same as before – too big, too high and with little thought as to what it brings actually to the town. Some of TRAG’s initial observations are that:
* Solum have skimmed a storey off the top, but added more flats overlooking Cole Park Road – there are still 165 flats, just 5 fewer than the initial idea.
* Solum have completely ignored the planning SPD completely recently adopted by Richmond Council
* The tower blocks will be as high as Regal House once the 5m height of the podium they will be built on is taken into account
* Family sized flats have been replaced with bedsits/one beds, contrary to council’s stated need for family homes
* The idea of a riverside walk seems to have morphed into something that actually follows the rail tracks instead.
And there’s plenty more if you want it. So, essentially it’s the same development: overly tall, crammed into the space, few amenities, disproptionate focus on the residential over the mixed use.

So what about Solum’s track record on station regeneration so far? Your honour, may we turn to exhibit A? CABE, the Government’s advisor on architecture and the built environment were critical of many aspects of Solum’s plans for Epsom station. In fact CABE say, “We are particularly concerned about the poor quality of this scheme, as we understand it is the first of a series of station redevelopment projects to be brought forward by a partnership between Kier and Network Rail”. It goes on to say, “This approach [to the use of public space] is not acceptable, and should not be rolled out to the other stations where Kier and Network Rail are in partnership”. Ouch!

Next, your honour, exhibit B: Solum’s initial plans for Walthamstow station have also been criticised by CABE. Their conclusion? “CABE recommends that this planning application is refused, and that a revised scheme is brought forward with a reduced amount of development of higher architectural quality”. Ouch! Again. It’s no wonder that the ‘Stow has got an active Fight the Height campaign going on in East 17.

Now, nobody disputes that Twickenham station isn’t in need of development. What happens there will influence development on adjacent sites such as the Royal Mail sorting office. No doubt there are locals who are happy with high rise or who take the view that anything must be better than what’s there currently but do we really need another two or three Regal Houses on sites in that part of the town? And would they even contribute much to regenerating Twickenham apart from providing more flats? It’s very debatable.

The site is in need of redevelopment but it seems that the balance between the profit motive and what’s best for the town is out of kilter. And of course, what gets built in the next few years will be gracing the Twickenham skyline long after the Solum brigade have retired to sunnier climes. Development? Yes please. Accepting the first plan that comes along from a developer whose two other plans have been criticised and which will set the tone for more high buildings in the area? Err, no thanks.

If you have opinions on this development (against it or even in favour of it) then make sure you let the Council know. Or contact TRAG for information on their campaign.