Question: Would you like to see Twickenham town centre thriving with a good range of shops, an array of cafes and restaurants, new buildings which feature a balance of business and residential use, and a Riverside public space which is the envy of south west London? Answer: No thanks. Not bothered.

Surprised by that response? Don’t be. It’s not true. What’s not to like about that vision of Twickenham? OK, so the question wasn’t actually taken from the consultation on the Twickenham Area Action Plan but it does sound a teeny bit like one of them. So, assuming the answer to the original question is a “yes”, how do we get hold of this brave new Twickenham?

As you’ll know from previous items on here and via the Council’s own promotional campaign, the Twickenham Area Action plan is out, about and awaiting your highly informed comments. It’s all about where we go next in the regeneration of the town. If you missed the All-in-One follow up session at the Civic Centre in June, then you can still have your say on the plan by completing El Brute’s questionnaire. So, if you’re interested in having your say in shaping the future of Twickenham then here’s your chance. Again. As Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle would say, “Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on!” It’s available online until 22 July. May we be so bold as to suggest that you get a move on. Paper copies are also available. Things might not turn out in line with your vision of utopian Twickenham, but your comments might have some influence.

Before you do the questionnaire it’s worth swotting up on the Area Action plan because it’s a kind of cumulative thing. You’ll get the idea when you read it. We can’t be bothered to do a proper write up so you really do need to read it yourself. But we’re not completely heartless, here’s a précis of an abridged summary of what’s in the plan and the questionnaire.

The publication, “Twickenham Rediscovered” has the obligatory quote from Lord True, the Duke of York (House), to kick things off. It then goes on to talk about “an overall strategy to guide future change and development in the town centre in the period up to 2027”. There’s a bit of Council speak in there with talk of “public realms” and “interventions” (sort of Sleeping Beauty meets The Matrix) but despite these the plan is intelligible to normal people.

It puts forward three scenarios for improving Twickenham. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the three options build on the same ideas. It really boils down to whether you want a to improve what’s already there with development at key sites, like the station and Royal Mail sorting office, or whether you’re up for a major overhaul. As the plan says, option 1 is about “consolidation”, option 2 about “enhancement” and option 3 about “transformation”.

Development site
At the core of all the options is developing the “northern gateway” (Twickenham station, sorting office site, etc), improving the shopping experience around King Street, London Road & York Street, making more public use of York House, and developing the Riverside. For the majority of people it’s going to be a “yes” to all of the above. It’s really only when you look at individual proposals that you might find anything to disagree with. For example the suggestion that Heatham House could be sold off and new facilities for young people provided elsewhere has generated a lot of angst. And just round the corner is the station. Ouch! Everyone wants to see a better station, it’s just a question of how high, how many flats, how few parking spaces, how rugby fans will be dealt with, etc, etc, etc. Fifty metres down the road and whatever your view on the desirability of a rooftop restaurant on Regal House we’re into specifics rather than strategy. The questionnaire seeks your views on the three options as well as some of the detailed ideas within each of them.

As a blueprint, the plan makes a lot of sense. It’s a vision for the town. But, as you’d expect with various tricky issues are glossed over. Traffic is one of them. Improving the shopping experience by widening pavements or pedestrianising parts of the town centre sounds great and always looks good on computer simulations featuring smiling couples pushing buggies past freshly planted saplings, but with the barriers of the river and the railway it’s going to be difficult to find ways to funnel traffic away from the town centre without causing major congestion elsewhere.

And of course there remains the most fundamental question of how it all gets paid for. This is covered only briefly. The Council owns some sites, external public / grant funding may be able to assist with other parts and of course, commercial developers will need to buy into the vision too. When you consider that all these things need to fall into place while keeping local residents and businesses on board then the scale of the task should not be underestimated. In fact, the non-development of Twickenham Riverside over the last 25 years is a good example of how if we’re not careful all those factors can come together to produce absolutely nothing at all. So, perhaps it’s time to learn from that and get some momentum behind moving things forward.

* Twickenham Area Action Plan (Deadline for the online questionnaire about the plan is 22 July)
* There’s also a chance for young people to have their say on 20 July at Richmond College. Details here.