A TWAP, a TAP & a Village Plan

Lookin’ good, King Street

UPDATE:
The Twickenham Area Action Plan is now out for public consultation until 31 August after which a final draft gets submitted for central government review. If approved the plan will be formally adopted in 2013. And as part of the over-arching consultation on the Twickenham action plan, El Brute are also running a consultation on the street scene and highways, in other words those tricky but essential issues like traffic flow, parking, cycle lanes, widening pavements and the location of bus stops.

Previously….
In life there are more questions than answers and in Twickenham, as you’ll have seen in our most recent High Street Update, there are more shop closures than openings. Or at least that’s the way it seems. Local independents such as Langtons and Par Ici have closed as have national chains such as Clintons. Add to that the turnover in cafes and restaurants and it’s not a pretty sight. The picture painted by Twickenham town centre is not one of a thriving, relatively affluent London suburb but of a town bumping along. It’s true that some of the new arrivals have been well received such as Laverstoke the butcher, Poundland (yes, really) and the transformed Sussex Arms pub, but look around and you’ll see plenty of “to let” signs above shops and offices.

When it comes to some empty premises it’s hard to even remember what was there before it closed. Perhaps we’re being overly pessimistic. If you like charity shops, we’ve certainly no shortage of those but surely the market for second-hand Ben Elton and Alexander McCall Smith novels is already well supplied? There are some signs of life but it’s hard to say whether it’s just the routine churn of shops opening and closing or a genuine sign of a recovery. This website has been running for two years and has seen a good half dozen shops open their doors and then close them again in that time. Depressing stuff.

Another shop to let


THE VILLAGE TWAP!
When you walk down King Street, Church Street or London Road do you get a sense of regeneration and of a sense of vitality sweeping through the town? Probably not. Perhaps the Twickenham Festival, the plans for an ice rink this winter in the grounds of York House and the opening of the Jubilee Gardens by the river will do the job. They’re all good things which genuinely add something to the “Twickenham experience”. They make it a more interesting destination but they alone can’t save the High Street and nor are they designed to.

El Brute (aka the Council) has been edging its TWickenham Area Action Plan (aka the TWAP) ever closer to becoming a formal plan for the town. But when will El Brute’s TWAP be revealed? The process is certainly taking a while. It’s been, what, over 18 months from its inception to its current status of being “almost ready for publication” but even after that there are more hoops to jump through before it’s formally adopted. It will, or at least should, help set the tone for the developments on the key sites but some of those, like the station and the old Royal Mail sorting office, are already at different stages in the development pipeline. The TWAP also wants to focus different types of businesses in different parts of the town centre to create a shopping zone, a leisure quarter, a DIY holodeck etc. It’s a long term project which needs commercial businesses to buy into the idea as well as the Council and the residents. Fair do’s but does it risk getting overtaken by events or even a change of administration in York House?

In addition to the TWAP, the Council has just launched its Village Plans for the various towns across the Borough. Some of the smaller places in LBRuT might even actually be ‘village-like’ but here at twickerati HQ we think Twickenham isn’t one of them. The Village Plans set out the key issues for each area, give some detail on the planning and development framework and encourage locals to have their say and get involved. You might be thinking it has a whiff of “BS” about it, by which we mean Big Society, and you might have a point, but change generally requires input from people beyond the walls of the nearest council offices. For Twickenham, the Village Plan is essentially the Action Plan and so you’ll already have an idea of most of what it’s about. The TWAP’s progress has been documented on here and elsewhere.

All Quiet on the Twickenham Front


MOOD
So what’s the mood music like on the High Street? Speaking to a few retailers the common theme to emerge was that business rates (set by national rather than local Government, of course) were too high after recent inflation busting increases, that some landlords were simply being unrealistic (i.e. greedy) in what rents they thought they could charge and that the Council, though well intentioned, had only a limited ability to bring about real change. Funding for new shops signs, such as those on part of London Road, was seen as all well and good, but wasn’t regarded as something to change the shopping habits of local residents. And where pieces of direct action were taking place, like the recent flags initiative, this was often down to the hard work of a few business owners.

SCIENTIFIC
Meanwhile a small and totally unscientific survey for this site revealed that those members of the twickerati who were even aware of the TWAP were as sceptical about it as some shop owners. It’s not that the they don’t want things to move forward, they just think the Council has only limited scope to influence change. There’s plenty of good stuff in the plan but when it comes to how it’s going to happen, as one respondent said, “The section on funding was particularly opaque, referring a lot to needing ‘partnership’ but not actually explaining how that would generate the funds needed. In fact they didn’t say what amount of investment is actually needed”.

Another said, “The council need to offer incentives to retailers to get them to set up in the town centre. It’s only charity shops with their tax advantages that can afford to set up. Retailers are getting hammered at the moment from the likes of Amazon and it only makes sense for them to set up if rates are lower. If we don’t, the town centre in 5 years will just be 50 charity shops and a couple of restaurants”.

Again money is at the heart of it and that’s something of a scarce commodity these days. Other locals also despaired at the number of charity shops, and the tendency for quantity to triumph over quality when it comes to local retailers and restaurants. Parking and traffic were also mentioned just as they are in the TWAP. The former ought to be addressable with some clever thinking and a bit of money, the latter is much harder to fix. The river, the railway, the A316 and a lot of houses all limit the options for diverting traffic away from the centre.

El Brute’s website says they’ve allocated £11m towards the development of Twickenham. They’ll need to spend it wisely as it’ll soon get used up.

TURN ON THE TAP
And where are the Twickenham Advisory Panel (aka the TWickenham Action Team) in all of this? It seems to have gone quiet on that front but they’re probably out there somewhere doing some cogitating and ruminating on the future of the town. Why the low profile? Did they disagree with Lord True, the Blue Baron? Are they perhaps in league with the Yellow Knight and his Lib Dems in plotting some kind of coup? We simply don’t know, but do keep a look out for them around the ‘village’ when you’re out buying your artisan bread and scented candles or sipping your cappuccino as you read your tattered copy of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency from the charity shop next door.

SO THEN…
Will you be having your say on the TWAP or your local village plan? Can the Council alone regenerate Twickenham and if not, how’s it going to be done? And what about that Mary Portas off the telly, eh? If she rolled into town with a TV crew in tow, what on earth would you say to her?

LINKS:
* Twickenham Action Plan
* Twickenham “Village Plan”
* Twickenham street scene & highways consultation
* Twickerati item “Bye Bye Bike Lanes” on cycle path changes
* Strawberry Hill “Village Plan”
* East Twickenham & St Margarets “Village Plan”

34 Comments

Filed under Features, High Street Updates, Local Issues & News, Twickenham Action Plan

34 responses to “A TWAP, a TAP & a Village Plan

  1. George

    This whole moving the bus stops and widening the pavement idea sounds good but will it actually work? It would be good to hear of real examples. Wider pavements sounds good for shoppers but they still need the right sort of shops to go in. Also it won’t reduce the volume of traffic but will make changing buses more of a hassle. Will wider pavements create a cafe culture perhaps? Yes it will look more attractive but with the volume of vehicles unchanged surely most people would rather sit out on Church St or by the river than King St?

    I assume this has been modelled using some fancy computer programme to assess impact on traffic speeds, cyclists etc.

    So it’s a nice idea but one that sounds like it might just create a single lane of near stationary traffic rather than two lanes at present especially if buses are stopping and starting in York St and Cross Deep etc.

    If it will work, then great but it doesn’t and can’t tackle the issue of too many cars having to squeeze along a small section of road. That would need more radical thinking and a lot of money.

    • twickerman

      I’m not sure who would want to have a pavement coffee sitting alongside the King St dual carriageway! Not me.

      By all means move bus stops, introduce a 20mph limit. widen pavements and plant a few trees. I support all these changes.

      But, don’t force even more cyclists onto pavements by closing cycle and bus lanes.
      Install cycle lanes on King St. Heath rd and London rd.

  2. Angela Creek

    With the inevitable demise of so many unsuitable shops trying to start up in Twickenham is there anything we can actually do to make our poor old shopping centre thrive actually that’s a rather strong word in the present climate – let’s say recover a little and become more interesting, shall we?

    I have lived here for 19 years and in that time it has always seemed to be fading away – only saved from death as by charity shops arriving in large numbers. For goodness sake, Twickenham even hosted the first EVER McDonald’s to give up the ghost and close!

    What could suit the area more and be easy to organise and run is a proper weekly general market. Plenty of room along the river frontage to house stalls with anything from fruit and veg, clothes, crafts, antiques, bric-a-brac etc etc. Nice as the occasional French and Italian markets are they are not very useful. And I suspect not always authentic judging by the banners around all the stalls at the last Italian Market showing that everything was provided by or set up by a UK based company.

    A bustling mixed market would be useful to residents of all ages. I for one would not have to struggle home from Kingston every week laden with my fruit and veg from Dave’s stall. Are markets going out of fashion or would it be just the lifeline our area needs?

  3. I’ve just had the new plan posted through my door. The most noteworthy feature is removing the bus stops from central twickenham (near the Poundland) to Cross deep, down Heath Road and near the Cafe Coffee Day. They also want to remove the bus lanes in the most congested part of twickenham (also in front of Poundland).

    Not sure what this will do with the bus journeys and potentially could make them significantly longer if they get tangled up with the traffic jams with cars in the morning. 😦

    I agree with the others about the lack of vision for the shops and cafes. Much as I love them, we don’t need more of them in town. I’ve always thought we could do more with students – give them vacant shops to show their wares, try experimental businesses, do trial services. I know catering colleges in Westminster that will do a silver service three course meal for under a tenner so that their staff can learn their trade. There is no reason why we can’t do the same in Twickenham with Richmond College and St. Mary’s College. There is a startling lack of ambition in the plan which runs through it.

    On the subject of having to use Richmond instead of St. Mags while the station is out – well bus fares are flat rate so it shouldn’t cost you more. I do it most mornings from Strawberry hill and it is a pretty nice ride and cheaper (bus+train from zone 4) to get the train direct to central London from twick in peak hours (train from zone 5).

  4. Simon H

    So the TWAP’s retail plan is:
    a) We don’t need to really increase the number of retail units. But, even though large numbers of them are empty and this figure will only increase, we’re not going to reduce them, either. In fact, if something is a retail unit, in the vast majority of cases, it must stay as such. Oh, and there will be more retail units at the new station, but don’t worry about those.
    b) We are, however, going to concentrate the retail area into three specific zones. These are: 1) a boutiquey/high street/general bit around King and Church Street, 2) Cafes and restaurants in London Road, 3) DIY/Home furnishings etc in Heath Road. But how is that concentrating the shops, you may ask? Surely that’s exactly where all the shops are now? Erm, well, yes, um… You may also ask where all the customers for these shops are going to come from—they don’t seem to be there at present? Oooh, erm, another good one! Do you like films about Gladiators?

    Does no one at the council ever walk through Twickenham and observe what’s going on? Do they not read reports in the papers about the slow death of high streets up and down the country? Have they never heard of Amazon?

    The retail aspect of the TWAP is an exercise in aimless dreaming, with absolutely no indication of how any of its aims will work.

  5. what plans has TWAP got for twickers? an other shopping mall? more charity shops?

  6. twickerman

    Minimising the use of Twickenham station for 3 years clearly isn’t going to help Twickenham’s struggling retailers and restaurateurs.

    • Simon H

      Good point. And what’s a big part of the development—more shops! To be honest, I’m not anti Solum and they’ll probably be quite nice shops. But surely the lower reaches of Heath Road et al really will be screwed with this extra competition.

    • Anonymous

      According to Solum, ‘minimising the use’ of Twickenham railway station during redevelopment means commuters should use St Margarets or Richmond stations instead.
      As Twickenham is in Zone 5, and these other stations are in Zone 4, I trust SWT will compensate all those travellers that have zones 1 to 5 annual rail cards?

    • Simon H

      Having to get the bus to St M or Richmond will also add a good 20 mins to many people’s journeys. I trust SWT will compensate for that, too?

    • twickerman

      I personally wouldn’t mind the walk to St Mags, if the trains weren’t so infrequent and slow. Alternatively, I’ll have to pay for the extra bus fares to/from Richmond.
      All so Solum can profit from some ugly high rise flats.
      Many thanks Solum and Network Rail 😦

  7. Bob Chewter (@bobchewie)

    when i was in whitton last it was already looking like a ghost town..is this widespread or just to do with that area? anyone tell me?

    • Simon H

      It is widespread and that’s why the TWAP is wishful thinking. High streets are waning across the country due to forces well beyond the control of ElBrut.

  8. twickerman

    Station Redevelopment News

    In Solum’s pre-construction planning conditions (11/1443/DD03) they make the following key statement:
    “1.4 An overall objective during the construction works at Twickenham Station will be to MINIMISE THE USE OF THE STATION, and encourage passengers to use Richmond, Whitton and Hounslow stations, both for normal days and event days.”

    FYI, train users and commuters, the construction work which will start in just 3 months is going to take just 3 YEARS. 😦

    Any suggestions how they might minimise use of the station?

  9. Gareth Roberts

    As a side issue, what gives one very little confidence is that whoever is in charge of the detail of the various schemes has absolutely no clue as to how a Venn Diagram works

    http://www.richmond.gov.uk/twickenham_venn_diagram.pdf

  10. ruggabugga

    The TAAP plans suggest that installing a 4 storey car park in station yard “which screens the residential area to the South from the railway line”.
    It will also screen virtually any view from these unfortunate homes, as well as sitting right in front of the Albany pub, a Building of Townscape Merit.
    This inappropriately sized car park is clearly intended to compensate for the significantly reduced number of parking spaces at station Solum, and for the total lack of parking for the 115 flats above the station
    Local residents need to make their views known in the TAAP consultation and to local Cllrs.

    • Anonymous

      If the multistory car park goes ahead in Station Yard it will blight this area even further and increase traffic flow, noise and pollution, thereby affecting residents’ quality of life. For decades office and commercial development in Twickenham has been of a scale and purpose not suitable for the town centre, and still it continues.
      With the exit of the Council from Regal House, this will now be mostly empty, and will probably be so until a property speculator can maximize a healthy profit out of it. The massive Queens House offices in Holly Road still remain mostly vacant too.
      In the 1960s and 1970s swathes of Twickenham around the railway station, London Road, Holly Road and Grosvenor Road were swept away. This was to allow commercial development and council sponsored housing, which destroyed substantial Victorian and Edwardian properties and peoples’ homes in the process.
      Twickenham has always been regarded as the poor relation of Richmond and the current regime seems happy to continue to force unsuitable developments, such as the railway station scheme, on the town. –Damaging it’s character even further, compromising its human and environmental sustainability, and spoiling the natural and architectural landscape.
      Older residents may remember what happened to the area all those years ago and the politics and social manipulation involved. Sadly we can remind ourselves what was lost in terms of housing, community and domestic architecture by looking at the pictures on this website:
      http://www.grosvenor-road.co.uk/

    • Walkinthepark

      The Consultation has opened up. http://www.richmond.gov.uk/twickenham_area_action_plan.htm
      Does anyone have any advice on how we challenge the proposal for a multi storey Car Park on the grounds of “soundness” they set out as the only basis for comment. It looks as though Lord Trues strategy of slipping it in after the consultation and keeping it under the radar has worked and the grounds for challenging it are limited. Be warned once this is in a plan it will be very difficult to stop it, a Planning Officer / Planning Inspector will judge any proposal against whether it is consistent with the plan. If the plan says four storeys and justifies it as screening the railway line the only grounds left for challneging it will be the appearance and that will be judged in the context of Regal House, Bridge House and whatever rises on the Post Office site. Advice welcome

    • Boss

      It’s a crazy idea putting a multi storey car park at that location. There is very poor accessibility for cars around there already especially coming up Station Road towards the lights by the Patch. Not that long ago, the council were considering making Station Road one-way to relieve the traffic problem – putting a car park there will only drive more traffic there!

    • twickerman

      Perhaps Cllr Gareth Roberts could offer some constructive advice on how to challenge the multi-storey car park proposal, as he has previously criticised this new folly of Lord True’s ?

  11. Walk in the Park

    Very interesting article.

    I’m really interested to hear exactly why throughout the whole of this process the Council have had such a yearning for multi storey Car Parks? It’s all very 70s. I gather they have given up on putting a roof on Holly Road but still want four storeys opposite the Albany. What exactly is that going to do for Twickenham? Apart from the fact there isn’t a multi storey Car Park in the world that adds, or can even be sympathetic to the environment (unless it was that one in the latest Mission Impossible which was admittedly quite cool ), I’ve yet to see a full sign up in the existing car parks /parking spaces Is a shortage of short term parking really a factor in the High Street’s woes? And if it is will all those spaces by the station be the answer? If there is a problem it is that existing car parks are expensive for those who want to drive to Twickenham or on up to town for work but with good transport links should we be meeting that need? They will just add to the traffic queues and drive back home again, especially if it is next to the station. It won’t be a source of stimulation to Twickenham’s economy. Am I wrong or does Lord True run a charity for the preservation of the multi storey as a feature of urban design?

    • Steve P

      Since the Get Carter multi in Gateshead bit the dust us mockneys have been waiting for the new dawn of brutalist gangster parking facilities. Now I’m finally getting it, smacked down right in front of my window. Thanks Lord False yer a geezer.

  12. Mike

    In the end the only thing that will sort Twickenham out is… an underpass.

    • Ellen

      Everyone laughs when I say it, but I really think a tunnel under the high street for through traffic would save the town centre. Yes, it’s a big project, but imagine a quiet high street, maybe pedestrianised, maybe with short term parking for local shops. Imagine the through traffic routed underground from the dip to Barclays. Pretty cool, eh?

  13. Simon H

    HI Twickers,

    Great article. When I contacted the council about the TWAP (for the piece I was going to write for you, but never did. Sorry!), I asked them why it didn’t address the challenge to high streets of the Internet.

    By 2022, it’s expected that the Net will represent 20% of all retail. To put it rather clumsily, you could say, then, that we’ll need 20% less shops. Only it won’t be quite like that. A 20% decrease in trade may see most high-street shops close, as they won’t be profitable.

    Yet the TWAP merely says it wants to maintain the current number of shops in Twickenham. That isn’t a plan, that’s just burying your head in the sand.

    It would be much better if the council took a really pragmatic, forward-thinking approach and urged landlords to convert retail premises to housing and concentrate Twickenham’s shops in a small, but vibrant area around Church and King Street and London Road.

    If you think that sounds defeatist, consider this statistic. There are currently 250 retail units in Twickenham. That’s a ludicrous number that belongs to an age when the retail industry was very different. Consider how much better it would be if there were, say, 80 thriving, varied interesting shops instead (taking in everything from dear old Poundland to posh clothes shops)

    • Carl

      Indeed the amount of retail units is, in the context of the mass of retail within a short car / bus ride, and the move online way out of kilter with reality.

      The idea of dramatically reducing the number of retail premises and converting some to housing is a very good one and would both alleviate the transitory nature of some stores and 170 residential units will allow El Brute to fulfil their housing supply targets for the next century.

    • Simon H

      Yes, quite. I’m sure some affordable housing could be squeezed in.

    • that would be best as its widely know that social housing is in such short supply these days i can testify to that as i am in temp accomadation

  14. ruggabugga

    It appears that the Twickenham Area Action Plan (aka TAAP or Twickenham AAP by the Council) has just moved from pre-publication to publication phase.
    And you know what that means….yes….another Consultation. Hoorah!

    This is what the Council have to say about it:
    “Both the TAAP publication version (i.e. final version) and the Twickenham Town Centre
    Highways Scheme will be subject to consultation at the same time from 6th July to 31st August 2012”

    The Council also state that “Water Lane and Wharf Lane and Riverside will not be included in the [highways] consultation as this area will be covered by later phased scheme”.
    I wonder why the council are delaying plans for this key area??

  15. Horace Walpole

    Thanks you for this well-written and thoughtful piece. It should be mandatory reading for all our Councillors.

    • Simon H

      Gareth Roberts reads this blog. It’d be good to get his thoughts.

    • Gareth Roberts

      Hello Simon

      I’m currently studying it along, I hope, with as many people as possible. There are good bits, some bad, some which are frankly cause for alarm! So I can’t give a view just at this time but I will share it soon.

    • Simon H

      Thanks, Gareth. It’d just be nice to know that the council (in general) is being pragmatic and not just engaging in expensive wishful thinking.