Sorting Office Site Plans Published

Twickenham Sorting Office Site

Twickenham Sorting Office Site

Boom! It’s war! It’s long been a dream of ours to begin an article with that word de nos jours. And now that we’ve done it, what’s left? Nothing of course, all our ambitions have been fulfilled. But why the ‘boom!’ in the first place? Well, the next bitter battle in the development of Twickenham is expected to be fought over the weeks and months ahead. This time it’s the regeneration of the old Royal Mail sorting office site that is going to get people all agitated and hot under the collar. Except that it probably won’t. Why? Because the development looks like a good scheme.

The draft plans have been online for months and given an airing at a couple of community meetings, but it’s only now that the detailed application has been validated by El Brute that you get to take a look at the full monty on their website.

The scheme is being proposed by the developer St James and architects, JTP. And it’s at this point that we should stress that JTP are actually not, repeat not, architects, they are in fact “international place makers”. Just like you, we have no idea whatsoever who or what an “international placemaker” is, so we’ll stick with the words architects and designers for the time being.

And what will these fine fellows be offering the people of Twickenham? Well, it’s large site and so it’s a bit of a mix. Squeezed in between the railway and the River Crane, the development will include a “cultural hub” community building with flexible space, a mixed use section with 82 apartments and space for 2 restaurants, basement level parking, a small piazza next to the Crane and a ‘housing quarter’. This latter section, set furthest back from London Road, will contain 28 houses complete with actual, real parking spaces (unlike the flats at the station development across the road) and actual, real, small gardens behind.

Architecturally it’s a bit of a mix too: modern, modern with a nod to the 30s and houses with a bit of a Georgian (or is it mid-Victorian?) theme. Either way it hangs together pretty well, is fairly low rise and puts a lot onto the site. Could or should the architecture have been a bit bolder, a bit more modern? Quite possibly. Any drawbacks? No doubt there will be a few discussion points and the use of the word “gatehouse” is a slight worry with its connotations of electric gates and new houses being “in the community” but not “part of the community”. Some will also express concern about the affordability of the housing, or rather, the very limited amount of affordable housing contained in the scheme. But all in all, and at the risk of undermining any nimby credentials that the twickerati website may have accrued over the last couple of years, the verdict from the van is that this is a good development which will provide a long overdue injection of life into this expanse of derelict space.

You disagree? Go on then…

A planning decision is due by 29th March.

Sorting Office Site (from

* Richmond Council planning page (ref 12/3650)
* St James (developer)
* John Thompson & Partners (international placemaker)


Filed under Council, Local Issues & News, Twickenham Action Plan

34 responses to “Sorting Office Site Plans Published

  1. apprenticeguru

    I too like the plans and was impressed with the approach of St James at their consultation – particularly glad to see that parking is not forgotten.
    Not sure how much thinking of the joined up variety El Brute have been doing; but the swathe of separate consultations on sites sweeping up from the Station, to Post Office, to Heatham House and on to the College would seem to me to indicate plenty of scope. Maybe it’s not too late for a consolidated look??
    Power to your elbow.

  2. Ignitionnet

    I echo the above regarding the plans, they do seem for the most part very, very good, however I do have deep misgivings about the lack of affordable housing.

    Between this and the Solum development over 200 units of housing and 5% of it affordable. That which is affordable is shared ownership which is risky. Nothing socially rented while housing associations are looking for places in the area to spend their money.

    It’s very difficult to feel positive about this. El Brute seem to be quite happy getting rid of the ‘riff raff’ to quote Tony Arbour. Not to mention in these times of alleged austerity the operating of an arts centre seems an extravagance, not least because the council just spent 8 figures on another pet project of theirs. I would prefer rather than something that may be enjoyed by a minority, some of us I regret to say have little interest in art or jubilee gardens, we all receive a council tax cut.

    I’m not entirely sure where El Brute are putting all the affordable housing, I really hope it’s not all in one location though, from past evidence it’s well known that that’s a bad idea.

    I appreciate these aren’t major concerns to those of you who already own your property but, both as someone leaving the area in the near future due to the insanity of the property market here, this regardless of this development, and an affordable housing campaigner this continues a worrying trend. The apartments will be bought by landlords as investments, the houses by the equity rich leaving the centre of London to raise families, those who are stuck living with parents or in private rented accommodation in Twickenham are essentially being told to go elsewhere.

    It’s unfortunate but not an uncommon trend. The main thing that catches in the throat is its implicit approval by El Brute.

    I don’t object to the plans beyond that. I don’t qualify for the affordable housing schemes so it doesn’t affect me personally, but certainly there are plenty for whom this is a major problem affecting them. The council should be looking to help them, not pack them away in a corner of the borough or wait for other councils to take their ‘riff raff’ from them.

    • jimbo

      hang on a mo – the plans haven’t yet been passed by the Planning Committee.
      What project has ElBrute spent 8 figures on?

    • Ignitionnet

      Hi Jimbo,

      The project would be Lord True’s calling from God – the Catholic school.

      Appreciate the plans haven’t been passed yet but the Solum development was worrying in its own right, this as well would definitely start to make it a pattern.

      Incidentally in other thoughts that the only people to thumbs up/down my comment all went for down, the solitary up was actually me :), isn’t really good. The three of you really need to take a good, long look at yourselves.

    • jimbo

      surely the catholic school hasn’t actually cost anything yet, has it? And presumably the catholics are going to chip in. Are you sure about “8 figures”?

    • Ignitionnet

      The land cost £8.4 million, other assets push cost close to, if not into, 8 figures.

      A reminder the school was ‘desired’ not ‘necessary’.

      Cheers to whoever was butt hurt enough by my comment to mark it down – love you too ❤

    • Ignitionnet

      Wow 6 thumbs down for daring to mention things like lack of affordable housing and buy to let being a problem.

      I would suggest that such people are exactly the cause of the housing crisis facing the country. The same people desperately defending their back yard due to being mortgaged to the hilt and relying on their overpriced property not falling in value, along with interest rates staying low so that they can service their enormous repayments – repayments which according to statistics have an approximately 50%+ chance of being interest only.

      Affordable housing isn’t responsible for your bad financial decisions and overstretching yourselves, you are.

      Have a great day all 🙂

    • Mr Grumpy

      Quite a chip on that shoulder there…

    • Ignitionnet

      Agreed Sir, no idea why people are so offended by someone calling it as it is but that’s life!

  3. Anonymous

    Overall i have to say that the plans look very good. Will be a vast improvement the current situation

  4. twickerman

    What is Cllr Knight (Teddington) playing at? Why is he trying to deprive Twickenham residents of a desperately needed cultural centre?

    I’m sure Cllr Knight’s North Twickenham LibDem colleagues, Acton & Khosa, support the addition of the cultural centre in their ward, as an integral part of the ongoing enhancement of Twickenham town.

    While he might have a point that 10% affordable homes is lower than it could and should be, this political point shouldn’t be made at the cost of the cultural centre.

    I’m sure that St James have a significant financial contingency in their application to ensure they make a healthy profit following scrutiny and changes to the application. This can be used to increase the percentage of affordable housing.

    This contingency should also be used to contribute to the River Crane pavement/bridge widening, ideally supported by the RFU & IRB for RWC2015.

    • Ignitionnet

      So Twickerman you rate a cultural centre, within 2 minutes of Heatham House, as being more important than affordable housing provision?

      Just to clarify where you stand and your priorities you understand.

      Obviously I’m sure those who are seeking affordable housing in the area would disagree, just as those who are already well housed, albeit mortgaged senseless, would likely agree as they couldn’t care less about affordable housing at best and at worst would be actively opposed to it due to the perceived effect on their property value..

    • twickerman


      Rather than trying to pick a fight you should read what I said:
      – 10% affordable homes provision is lower than it should be
      – StJames should increase the % of affordable housing.

      You may be young enough to use Heatham House, but the youth centre is of limited use to us grown ups!

    • Ignitionnet

      Perhaps twickerman you should read what I said. It wasn’t any reference to whether or not you alluded to affordable housing, it was where your priorities were.

      ‘While he might have a point that 10% affordable homes is lower than it could and should be, this political point shouldn’t be made at the cost of the cultural centre.’

      Somewhat puts it into focus. Affordable housing being undersupplied – 10 x 1 bedroom flats and 1 x 2 bedroom flat across two developments totalling ~200 apartments and 28 houses – isn’t a political point, there are real people involved.

      Your far longer post made no reference to the lack of affordable housing whatsoever.

      I find the idea of a cultural arts centre a pile of pretentious nonsense in these current times. We’re allegedly in a time of austerity where there are critical housing shortages across London, these plans are an insult to that.

      While I appreciate some are getting all excited at the prospect of the potential rental yields it’s horrendous that the entire MO of Twickenham seems to be to kick what is ‘needed’ down the road to be dealt with by someone else and focus on what is ‘desired’ or ‘wanted’.

      People need places to live within reasonable distances of where they work. Want culture? Waterloo is about 20 minutes away and you’re in the middle of the most culturally complete city in the world.

      I apologise if I’m bursting the Twickenham bubble a bit here. Those of us who live in the real world feel compelled to consider the needs of those who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the bubble.

    • Mr Grumpy

      I’m happy that your world is more real than anybody else’s on here and thanks for the enlightenment.

    • Ignitionnet

      It is a pleasure and you’re entirely welcome. Any time people need a little empathy for those less fortunate I’ll be happy to assist.

  5. The Liberal Democrat Line:

    Cllr Stephen Knight: “Whilst many people will welcome the prospect of a new arts centre in Twickenham, for the council to try to build such a facility at the price of local familes in housing need is morally bankrupt.

    “The former Royal Mail site in Twickenham is publicly owned land and therefore should be used predominantly for affordable homes, so this luxury development should be rejected out of hand. Our local housing associations are crying out for the chance to develop sites like this for affordable homes and we have seen a doubling of the number of local families being put up in bed & breakfast in the past year alone.

    “The council has so far failed to produce a business case for an arts centre or say how it will fund the inevitable running costs at a time of massive cuts to essential services.”

    • Simon H

      Oh, good grief. Vote Tory! Or Labour! Or SNP!

    • Ex-Twickenham Village resident

      Subsitute ‘arts centre’ for ‘river centre’ and ‘former royal mail site’ for ‘old swimming pool site’ and it all looks rather familiar except the political parties have swapped roles.

    • jimbo

      On the contrary, there is no comparison! Riverside is Council property (ie belonged to us), the Royal Mail site is not.

    • Ignitionnet

      It’s a sad day when I find myself agreed with Liberal Democrats. Oh well.

  6. simonh

    A-ha. I see.

  7. twickerman

    In general the sorting office planning application looks pretty good, and has been consulted on widely by St James and JTP.
    It appears to be an interesting and good quality development that will improve the local environment and much needed community facilities (unlike the ugly overbearing Solum tower blocks!).

    There are a few aspects of the application wheret here is scope for improvement and/or more detail is required:

    1. As I reported in December, a major disappointment of the scheme is that it fails to resolve the busy and congested pavement area, used by pedestrians and cyclists, between the sorting office site and Whitton Road. There is a fantastic opportunity to widen the bridge over the River Crane and create an extended public space leading to Heatham House, the riverside walk and Whitton Road.
    This would also ease the severe pedestrian congestion on event days. The proposals refers to use of the tunnel under London Road on match days, but pavement widening is needed to avoid a serious bottleneck on the route to Whitton Road.

    I suspect this opportunity has been missed because it is just beyond the sorting office site boundary, but surely the Council can work with St James to develop this weak aspect of the scheme (please note that the highways scheme also fails to address this area).
    It is notable that Cllr Naylor also supports my proposal to widen the bridge, as did the JTP architect I spoke to at the December consultation forum.

    2. I have struggled and failed to find any evidence of the riverside path for pedestrians and cyclists in any of the plan drawings. It appears this is wishful thinking at the moment. Detailed drawings must be provided.

    3. The London Road aspect of the community centre looks very attractive, taking design clues from art deco signal boxes. But the South facing auditorium looks like a Eastern European utilitarian coffin (or grave) because of the grim, flat, concrete cladding. Surely a more attractive and appropriate finish can be found for an aspect of the building that is highly visible from London Road. Community coffin anyone? No thanks!

    4. The Heads of Terms for the application (Council terms, conditions and financial contributions) are extremely vague at the moment and need considerably more detail. These should be used to specify the bridge/pavement widening agreements and costs wth the Council, amongst other things.

    Despite these criticisms, I believe this is a good proposal. It just needs some fine tuning to turn it into a great development!

  8. Simon H

    I’ve just had a good study of the plans over my lunch hour (accompanied by Covent Garden Carrot and Coriander soup and some crusty baps), and I have to say the plans look fabulous. Attractive housing, nice communal areas and even some kind of performance space for concerts. I can’t wait.

    If anyone dares to erect a table outside Superdrug saying how evil it all is, I may well get Jesus-in-the-temple on their bottoms.

    • Fair enough; is there any mention of what’s (now) Heatham House?…

    • simonh

      There is, but I don’t think it’s anything too substantial.

      I’ve got four thumbs down. Please don’t tell me that some silly nimbys are going to object to this development.

    • Your five thumbs up say otherwise. I think “anything too substantial” may not cut it either…

    • simonh

      I should have a read of the plans, Nick, as I wasn’t really looking out for Heatham House. But I certainly didn’t see anything negative about it.

    • Thanks Si; and good for them. Plus the satellite image seems to corroborate that. Fingers crossed.

    • twickerman

      Heatham House is mentioned, as a neighbour, but is beyond the sorting office site boundary.
      Because planning applications are site specific we have to rely on the Council for joined up thinking between different sites and developments (HH, River Crane, Station tunnels, Highways & Streetscene proposals, RFU events, etc).

    • Simon H

      Yes, that’s the only reference I saw. Heatham House isn’t really anything to do with the new development.

    • LBRuT had tried to promote the idea of the sorting office site housing a new community centre for young people that would free up Heatham House for sale or some other use. A boutique hotel was suggested as one option. The consultation they ran showed that a majority wanted to keep HH as is. It’s popular and has a large plot with activities in the grounds.

      Presumably it’s possible that the Council’s plan could still be pushed through at some point if the ‘community hub’ in this scheme is given a focus on young people. Perhaps there’s something in the detail about who would actually be taking responsbility for running this centre?

    • A clue would indeed be nice…
      Having spoken to some HH Alumni fairly regularly I can confirm some of “El Brute” were very reticent to write down anything confirming the same! This time’s the charm?