Twickenham hasn’t always made best use of its Thames-side location. It’s perfectly possible to pass through the town without realising that the main drag passes just 100 metres from the river. That looks set to change with the Council’s acquisition of the large site on the corner of Water Lane and King Street currently occupied by Santander, Superdrug and M&Co. It’s a TWAP* thing, of course. The plan is to redevelop the site to create a ‘town square’ at the top of Water Lane, provide better access to the river and the Diamond Jubilee Gardens (possibly including some kind of outdoor performance space), and create a mixed use development incorporating retail outlets and residential properties. Sounds good. What’s not to like?
Council supremo Lord True, aka the Blue Baron, said, “The separation of Twickenham Town from the historic riverside, that was so critical to the development of the area, has long been regretted by local people, and led to wide spread under appreciation of the quality of the unique place. By acquiring the properties, the Council is fulfilling a promise to enable the creation of a new heart and square for Twickenham that will unite town and river again”. Cue air punching and stirring music.
There will be those who point out that spending millions on a scheme like this may not be the best use of public money in these straitened times. They have a point. But, a creatively designed, well-built scheme that links the town’s shopping area to the river and which includes some commercial development to cover costs could be a major asset to the town. And therein lies the crux of the issue for some. One person’s ‘creative design’ is another’s carbuncle. One person’s ‘appropriate amount of commercial development’ is another’s ruination of a prized asset. Most will agree that public space and access to the river need to be at the heart of this project not something tacked on to some developers’ plan for packing in luxury riverside flats. It’s going to be a difficult balancing act to get it right. As the Baron goes on to say, “This could be a lasting legacy for generations.” No pressure there then.
El Brute are hoping that some of the country’s brightest and best architects will be prepared to put forward ideas as part of a design competition. That sounds like an interesting starting point. We assume that after last summer’s Gloriana Boathouse Drama, Norman Foster won’t be rushing his top team down to Twickenham any time soon. Good luck to those that put themselves forward.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned to twickerati for more TWAP news as and when it happens.
* El Brute press release
* TWAP = Twickenham Action Plan or, as the Council continue to insist on calling it, the Twickenham Area Action Plan