York House, the home of Richmond Council
It’s a year since Gordon agreed with Nick, since Nick agreed with “our Vince” and since nobody agreed with Serge. Now, no one seems to agree with Nick, no one remembers Gordon and “our Vince” made some indiscrete comments that turned him & his wide-brimmed hat from The Great Deputy into The Great Gaffesby. And as for Serge and his riverside and parking plans, well, they’re consigned to history forever, for the time being. Instead we have Lord True (a kind of suburban version of gentleman farmer Ralph in The Fast Show) and a Conservative Council. The new council has talked a lot about Twickenham and about consultation and regeneration. Ye gads, it’s even delivered on some of the things it promised. But it’s also done some of the things that it didn’t.

So let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows of the last (almost) year. And more importantly, let’s hear your views.

The Tories won the local election with a majority of 6 seats. Big issues were the long running saga of Twickenham pool site and the unpopular CO2 based parking charges in which owners of gas guzzling cars were charged more to park their cars. But only if they lived in certain parts of the Borough and only if they had to park on the street instead of, say, on their gold-plated private driveway. Labour achieved “nul points” when it came to Council seats, not surprising given the generally prosperous nature of the Borough. (So there’s some votes for AV). But what happened next?

Words Speak Louder Than Actions?
We’ve seen wide ranging All-in-One consultations with residents and businesses on their priorities for services in the Borough. We’ve had a Barefoot Consultation on Twickenham issues and we’ve even had a Future of Twickenham conference to field yet more ideas. Purveyors of Post-It notes must bloody love this Council! So, lots of ideas and lots of talk about regeneration but not too much action yet. Some options for the “Area Action Plan” are promised for the early summer with real action to follow on from that.
Verdict: Good ideas but real action which involves the community will require compromise, something that some single issue fanatics might find tough. Oh, and we might need some dosh too.

And we were also told that a Twickenham Panel would be created involving the brightest and the best from the local community – those with the passion, drive and inspiration to help make things happen around the town. Five months after the idea was touted, we’re still none the wiser on who these passionate people are and what their role is.
Verdict: Interesting, but hurry up & reveal the Golden Twicket holders. Oh, and BTW, can we please have a register of members interests for the lucky panelists.

Swimming Pool Saga
Well, there has been action on the Twickenham pool site. The previous plans have been chucked out, and another set of plans were dusted off & then quickly approved to develop the site as an open space. Some money was found from somewhere to help make this happen.

Derelict pool site viewed from Secret Garden
It was almost as if all that canvassing of ideas was simply going through the motions before lending support to a pre-existing strategy. Either way the current scheme seems to be something of “holding” approval – to give the go ahead to an interim, low cost option for creating an open space while the town ponders on how to get the money to make something really good. So, we’ve had the opening of a “secret garden” on part of the site and also unlocked that other little bit of space which looks like it was designed for school kids to sit around smoking & drinking in.
Verdict: We’re still a long way from the “public piazza” or but it’s progress nevertheless.

Parking charges have been simplified, apparently. The CO2 scheme scrapped and a new set of parking regulations introduced. Or rather, a new set of regs has been put back to June to allow more time for people to get a Richmond Card, entitling them to discounts and 30 minutes free parking.
Verdict: Sensible. It’s just a shame that valuable resources have to be spent unpicking a previous piece of duff regulation.

Council Tax
Council tax has been frozen which “in these difficult times” is good news for residents but of course the Council needs to cut costs to make this viable. So what are some of the decisions taken in York House to help make this happen?

Heathfield library has been closed and replaced by a limited service at the community centre. Yes it was the Lib Dems who decided to sell the old library site but the Tories took the decision not to actively pursue investing the proceeds in new facilities in the area.
Verdict: Bit of a botch. Libraries can’t simply be measured in terms of cost per book loaned.

Tangley Hall and Twickenham Day Care Centre – Two valuable resources to help local people with problems have been chopped. In the case of Tangley Hall, the Hampton based dementia care service, the expectation is that people will travel to Ham to use the Borough’s facility there. The decision was strongly opposed by many in the Borough but was passed by Council nevertheless. Similarly the Twickenham Day Care Centre provides services to older people and their carers.
Verdict: Services like this are a lifeline for some people. Yes it’s hard to do a cost benefit analysis of these things but there must have been more palatable cuts that could have been made elsewhere.

Joint commissioning of services has been touted as a money saver and El Brute has got into bed with Merton on legal services and is talking to Kingston about other options.
Verdict: If back office costs can be saved to help preserve frontline services then this is not a bad idea. Will need to be carefully managed in order to deliver value and accountability to local tax payers.

Educating Richmond
The Tories have promised to look into restoring sixth forms to Borough schools and to create two new secondary schools, one of which would be a Roman Catholic faith school. The reintroduction of sixth forms sounds like a sensible but potentially costly option. However, sixth form provision needs to be looked at given the mixed reviews that Richmond College seems to receive. Perhaps it’s just the press focusing on negative coverage but the current set up doesn’t seem to be overly popular with many parents.

More controversial is the proposal for a Roman Catholic secondary. This is being discussed extensively elsewhere and you probably either like the idea of state funded faith schools or you don’t. But it does seem odd that this school would be likely to draw pupils from outside the Borough under its faith based admission criteria.

And there’s also a shortage of primary school places. Some primaries have been asked to take an extra class to accommodate the bulge. It seems a bit late in the day to be looking at that option but we assume that this was not an issue that suddenly emerged in May last year.
Verdict: The schools issue needs tackling but the focus on the RC secondary is causing division where there needn’t be any. As they said at one particular school, TV’s Grange Hill, “Just say no”.

Planning to Fail?
The final hot topic on this tour is planning. And specifically the Twickenham station. The Council have set up shop in opposition to unsympathetic high rise development around the station through their SPD planning document.

Rail lines at Twickenham
This suggests a maximum height of 5 storeys for new buildings in that area. Solum Regeneration’s plans for the station run to 10 storeys in parts and these plans are currently chugging through the planning process. There’s still a lot to play for in what will be a development that changes the face of Twickenham for the next few decades.
Verdict: It’s good that the Council have tried to introduce guidelines for this important part of the town. But remember that it’s the grey suits at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol who ultimately know what’s best for Twickenham & not the residents or local council.

So how has it been for you? Better, worse or have you not noticed the change?
Feel free to add your comments below on the highs and lows of the last year. If you’re new to commenting then be reassured that your email address will not be displayed and comments from first timers will require moderation.

And finally, opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of this website, they could have been made up just for the sheer hell of it. After all, it’s your opinion that really matters.

Links:
Twickenham Area Action Plan
Richmond Card