Twickenham Riverside & Town Square Plan – Have We Come Full Circle?

Santander. King St / Water Lane

King St / Water Lane

There’s no local issue guaranteed to get Twickenham people all fired up quite like the fate of the old swimming pool site by the river. Apart from Heathrow expansion, the RFU, the Gloriana boathouse debacle, schools, cycle lanes and traffic that is, but let’s put them to one side for a second.

When it comes to the saga of the old Twickenham Baths site, or more specifically the piece of land running from Water Lane down to Embankment then this week is an important one. It’s time for the big reveal. Woohoo! This is the week when you get to see LBRuT’s plans for a town square (and other stuff) which will, so we are told, ‘give a focus to the town’ and help open up the space between King Street and Twickenham’s greatest asset. And by ‘greatest asset’ we don’t mean the twickerati ice cream van or even that giant pink rugby ball, we mean the riverside. The concept being promoted by El Brute is a ‘regency style’ development complete with covered arcade, colonnade and amphitheatre. Well, at least we can say that there’s not a lot of that in Twickenham town centre at the moment.

It all comes under the banner of the redevelopment of Twickenham aka ‘Twickenham Rediscovered’ in Council-speak. You may recall the many exciting consultations along the road to where we are now, a ‘future of twickenham’ one, a ‘barefoot’ one, an ‘all-in-one’ one and a TWAP one (that’s the Twickenham Action Plan, of course). Two themes to emerge in those consultations were making better use of the town’s open space and developing the old pool site but definitely, definitely, not doing that in the way proposed by the last Lib Dem administration. Their plan was slammed (and lambasted) for proposing to hive off this prime site for posh flats, a river visitors’ centre thingy and a small amount of community open space. Fast forward a bit and their Tory successors under the leadership of the Blue Baron, Lord True, built the Diamond Jubilee Gardens on a chunk of the old site. Fast forward some more to 2014 and the Council purchased the land on Water Lane between King Street and the river, a site which includes a car park, some old buildings and the unit occupied by Santander, M&Co and Superdrug. Next stop? After a ‘design competition’ of some kind, traditionalist architects Quinlan and Francis Terry were appointed to come up with a concept to develop the site. If you don’t know them, they designed the big Richmond riverside development. You’ve probably got drunk there once or twice on a summer’s evening.

Their concept for Twickenham (and folks, remember it’s still a concept not a formal plan. Things can change. A bit) is for a new regency style building on the King Street / Water Lane corner which contains a covered arcade leading towards the river and which then opens up into a curved colonnade facing onto a new amphitheatre / community space. The building itself could have ground floor retail and restaurants with the first and second floors being residential. There would be underground parking too. It’s certainly trying to tick a lot of the boxes on the Council’s briefing sheet.

Extract of design from LBRuT site

Extract of design from LBRuT site (click to visit)

Pool cue?
Now then, one man’s community square is another man’s space for street drinkers to congregate. One woman’s over-development of luxury flats is another woman’s idea of how to help finance a major piece of development. Clearly we don’t know who these four people actually are but they probably do exist and they’ll probably start arguing a lot very soon. But then there are some other people, people who don’t want what the Council is proposing at all. Their plan? Bring back the outdoor swimming experience to downtown Twickenham with a new lido on the site. Twickenham Alive – for it is they –  submitted their lido plan to the council’s competition but the idea was not taken forward by those who know much more about these things than we do.

Were Twickenham Alive deterred? Nope. Their scheme for a lido, health spa, fancy restaurant and open space were published online, a petition raised and local support generated. Cue much pool-related irritation at York House from those LBRuT types who pointed out that a new lido had never seriously featured in the numerous previous discussions and consultations. Perhaps the Councillors were just worried that their bathing machines would not be able to find a parking space at a new lido. Or perhaps having the site’s success dependent on such a large single entity was deemed too risky.

With this week’s publication of the concept we now have an idea of what might (or should that be ‘does‘) lie ahead for the plot. You’ve now got the chance to study the ideas in detail and have your say. After more consultation and feasibility work the expectation is that the eventual plans would be approved in the autumn of 2017 with the building work completed in 2019. Hey, that could even be before the station redevelopment gets underway.

Car Park, Twickenham

Car Park, Water Lane (not a regency one)

Our view?
We’ll sum up our initial view with one word, ummm. The Council has a great opportunity to do something really good for Twickenham here, the current site is a mess and the new concept has some interesting aspects to it. A covered arcade sounds good, as does linking it up to the Diamond Jubilee Gardens. Some kind of amphitheatre could also work well when compared to the performance space in the DJ Gardens which feels quite disconnected from the heart of the town.  We need to look in more detail, especially to get a sense of scale and height.  On the river side elevation it looks especially big when compared to its neighbours. And how about opening up more space on Water Lane so people can see the river? However, the appointment of such a traditional firm of architects meant the design was always going to go down a very particular route from the word go. Sure, the type of buildings you like is all highly subjective but in this instance think “What would Prince Charles like?” and you’re on the right track. The main theme in this ‘heritage’ design feels more ‘City of Bath’ than Twickenham Baths.  Presumably the more contemporary designs submitted just didn’t have that special TwiX Factor and were eliminated early on but it would have been good to know what they were and who Twickenham’s true tastemakers are. Perhaps the thinking was that playing it safe with regency styling would mean less chance of causing architectural offence.

The El Brute consultation is online from 9th November and the deadline for feedback is 11th December. There’s also a pop-up shop on Church Street where you can check out the proposals in a ‘fo real’ way. It’s open from 10th November to 9th December on Tuesdays through to Fridays (11am – 3pm) and on Saturdays from 11am – 5pm). And if that ain’t enough for you, architects from Q&F Terry will be on hand there on four occasions to answer your many, many questions.

27 Church St. Town Square Pop Up

27 Church St. Town Square Pop Up

And so, more than five years after the last serious plan for putting buildings onto the Embankment caused a mass of heated debate, are we about to come full circle when it comes to a town square?

* LBRuT: Twickenham Rediscovered concepts and consultation
* Twickenham site designs – PDF
* Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects
* Twickenham Lido




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

193 responses to “Twickenham Riverside & Town Square Plan – Have We Come Full Circle?


  2. illiad1

    in case you missed it, the ‘non-winner’ is here… 🙂
    go take a printout to Church St!! 😀

  3. Mud Flat

    If the arcade ever is ever built it will need a name.
    Perhaps “The Conservative Carbuncle” or more apposite “The Truly Dreadful” would do for a start. Any other suggestions?

  4. twickerman

    Our last opportunity to meet, quiz, grill, influence etc the architects is on Wed 2nd Dec from 5-7pm at the Church St pop-up shop.

    Might be a good time to read them El Brute’s brief, which seems to have been widely dissed in favour of their grandiose 3 & 4 storey over-development plans (from Nov 2014 press release).

    Architects are being asked to design a scheme that would:

    -Introduce a town square on King Street and at the top of Water Lane, and one that is sufficient in size to support commercial and potentially local market activity.
    -Introduce the opportunity for niche restaurants, retail, arts and crafts, commercial activity within the overall scheme and be complementary in style and formation to surrounding retail streets, specifically Church Street, Twickenham. Including the opportunity for alfresco/cafe dining activity.
    -Potential for ‘front of house’ Council services to be provided.
    -Connect to, and be complementary of, existing properties not within the ownership of the Council on King Street and Water Lane.
    -Include a proportion of residential including shared ownership options.
    -Introduce, as appropriate, further open space to provide for the relevant connection to existing open space and access to the Diamond Jubilee Gardens.
    -Create a possible area for performance on the Embankment (amphitheatre).
    -Consider a current/future opportunity to connect with, and develop, the access road at the rear of King Street, with the potential to establish retail activity that is complementary to the overall site.
    -Introduce facilities that could be available for community use including café, toilets, room to hire.

    This is what Cllr Fleming said in the press release:

    ‘We shall work with architects and look to create a new public square and widened entrance from King Street down to the River’ Thames.’

    This is what Lord True said:

    ‘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.’

    Full press release:

  5. This week’s print RTT has 3 letters: ‘Riverside plans ’too grandiose’‘ from David and Susan Burningham; ’We don’t want a block of flats from Sally Kermond; and ‘Riverside plans fill me with despair’ from Val Armstrong.

  6. Last Friday’s RTT is up at last on their website:

    The front page story is ‘Sheer hypocrisy: Tories announce bigger plans after ‘white elephant’ tweet’. The letters are on pp. 20-21: ’Plans will not open up access to river’ from Hester Huttenbach (who posts here); ’Planning consultation a ‘sham’‘ from Colin Heath of EPI; ‘Where is the river view?’ from Garth Ward; and one from me: ‘Development plans look like a Renaissance palace’.

  7. Tom Ambrose of the RTT (@TwickenhamTom) tweeted from the Council meeting: ‘Coun Fleming asked about riverside proposals. She says it is a concept at the moment and discussions to be had about modifying plans.’

  8. GG

    I’m not convinced Twickenham needs a lido – we have Hampton open air pool not far away. But we certainly don’t need more shops or a fake regency mall that is over scale, architecturally inappropriate and squanders the opportunity to do something exciting to improve Twickenham. I’d like to see the area opened up down to the river, I like the amphitheatre idea and the creation of better quality public space along the river. Call me heretical but the area of the old pool is a tad odd as a filled-in pool and could be developed as affordable flats (not as million pound apartments) as it is set behind the High St. and allows a large public area and unimpeded views to the river from the top of Church St down to the Thames. That strikes me as a good balance between public improvement, creating a heart in Twickenham and allowing some socially responsible development to fund some of the improvement costs.

  9. Dr NHS

    It seems to me that there is a consensus developing, that being that if there truly is a desire to ‘link’ the high street with the river the very worst way to do this would be to jam a huge mock-classical pile between the two with a concrete wind tunnel/telescope down the middle.
    A better way, surely, would be to build less, not more. Widen Water Lane hugely to create an open space that really would be a town square and plant the periphery with trees. That way, anyone driving through Twickenham from either the station or from York House would have a broad, uninterrupted view of the lovely river and Eel Pie Island, reminding them (and we residents) how close we are to the Thames. Because less building is needed, conceivably none at all, there would be no need for any housing to pay for the whole thing. Sloping lawns, interspersed with broad, shallow steps, perhaps, like the current grassy area at the foot of Bell Lane, next to the footbridge, that is so well used in the summer by folk stopping to have an ice cream and admire the ducks ? One might elaborate on this a little, perhaps (a shallow amphitheatre cut into the shallow slope, maybe ?) but the key, surely, would be for it to be very low level – knee to waist hight as viewed from the high street.

  10. mike hine

    If Cllr Fleming lives near Richmond Hill then maybe she should ‘walk her two Labradors’ down to the river near her home. She could look across to the hideous blocks which now occupy the old ice-rink area. She could then walk across the bridge and compare the relatively successful small scale developments opposite those flats and on the other side of the river. Her designer eye will tell her that the difference is all about scale. The reason?: rivers tend by their nature to be flat. What surrounds them, therefore, needs to respect this reticence in nature. Don’t overcrowd them, don’t dominate, don’t bully. If she needs more examples of how to screw up a townscape, take a trip to Kingston bridge or, even better, Kew bridge. She should look upstream and downstream and then ask herself which she prefers and why. (If she still can’t make up her mind she could ask the Labradors).
    I hope this helps.
    (And please don’t cite the Richmond Quinlan Terry stuff. Whatever anyone thinks about it, the size of the site, the width of the river at that point and the distance of the buildings from the river make it of little relevance to the Twickenham site).

  11. ProudOfTW1

    Sally- I also spoke with Cllr Fleming at the pop up and it was surreal. Despite a shop full of people with issues with the design, she insisted that the response she had was mostly positive. I have been into pop up shop a few times and the council workers have always said that they are facing a largely negative response- she says she has been told the opposite. I asked if she looked at Twickerati and she said she did and that was also positive!! There must be other threads I’m unaware of. What I found most worrying was her arrogant insistence that as a designer herself (lighting designer), she knew what she was talking about in regards to design. She said it had to be traditional to stand the test of time and said that we had other large grand buildings down the river such as Orleans and Marble Hill. I pointed out that they were contemporary at the time rather than pastiches at which point she stopped responding to any questions and just kept repeating “you can have your say on the consultation online”! When one Cllr believes herself to have a better grasp of design than the plebs she represents I worry that she thinks we all need to be told (by her) what is good for Twickenham. I don’t think she’s actually even a Twickenham resident is she. She seemed surprised when it was pointed out that there were no pictures of the view opposite the monolith – is the houses/ boat sheds of Eel Pie. Presumably as this would highlight how ridiculous this design will look opposite. I felt almost sorry for Francis Terry who said they gave only been commissioned to this point after being invited to participate- and that if it wasn’t what people wanted then it shouldn’t go ahead. Wish Cllr Fleming had said the same. Maybe letters to the architects are in order if they’re the only ones actually listening to the consultation?!
    Oh and lastly I heard Cllr Fleming being quizzed re the other entries. The fact that they have threatened to sue if mentioned would indicate they are large firms worried re their reputation. Think of the big names, esp those associated with Richmond council in the past and I’m sure won’t be far off the mark!

    David B- I agree with the second part. But you’re wrong that it has to be that size so it pays for itself. Obviously the developers will make more the more flats there are and the more ostentatious they appear (hence Terry chosen). A smaller, simpler building that doesn’t need to be clad in London stone will be cheaper to build and require less flats to pay for itself. It’s greed that means it is as big as it is.

    • ProudOfTW1: Thank you for this most enlightening encounter with Cllr Fleming; her ward is South Richmond i.e Richmond Hill:; she ‘worked as a PA in the House of Commons prior to setting up a small decorating and lighting business. Her interests include music, art, riding and walking her two labradors.’

      The threat of legal action comes from one architect only, the one that worked with the Lido group, who have not explained the rationale for the threat. I guessed that the architect wished to assert and protect their copyright in their creative work and not let it be pinched by the council’s favoured firm.

      It certainly sounds as if Terry & Co are the weak link and may be persuaded that this, by their standards small, commission is more trouble than its worth. The design, no doubt, would be put back in drawer to wait for another client.

    • Sally

      Thank you for describing your meeting with Councillor Flemming. Gosh, she is very sure if herself. I cannot see how she could possibly claim that she has had a generally positive response. Last night she was well within earshot of massed raspberries from a group,of irate locals. You had just given her your critical views. She reads Twickerati. Yet she will still trot off insisting that her plans have majority support.
      I remember when the Gloriana row was in full swing. Councillor Flemming instituted that a majority, indeed a substantial majority supported the development. At the time she was challenged to produce the evidence on which she based this assertion. I sent her two emails myself asking for the proof-after all she sounded very sure- but never ever had a response. Perhaps this is her technique. If she says it is so it IS so.

    • illiad1

      I think the word is Janus… 😛 🙂
      SO many people say ‘its wonderful’ and they mean the ‘lighting’… Photos??? It was an ‘art’ exhibit, surely?????

    • mike hine

      If Cllr Fleming lives near Richmond Hill then maybe she should ‘walk her two Labradors’ down to the river near her home. She could look across to the hideous blocks which now occupy the old ice-rink area. She could then walk across the bridge and compare the relatively successful small scale developments opposite those flats and on the other side of the river. Her designer eye will tell her that the difference is all about scale. The reason?: rivers tend by their nature to be flat. What surrounds them, therefore, needs to respect this reticence in nature. Don’t overcrowd them, don’t dominate, don’t bully. If she needs more examples of how to screw up a townscape, take a trip to Kingston bridge or, even better, Kew bridge. She should look upstream and downstream and then ask herself which she prefers and why. (If she still can’t make up her mind she could ask the Labradors).
      I hope this helps.
      (And please don’t cite the Richmond Quinlan Terry stuff. Whatever anyone thinks about it, the size of the site, the width of the river at that point and the distance of the buildings from the river make it of little relevance to the Twickenham site).

    • Dr NHS

      The plebs Cllr Fleming reckons she knows better than are not even the good folk of Twickenham ! Her ward is in Sheen. It’s quite possible that she is both humble enough to think that she doesn’t know better than the folk of Sheen and yet also arrogant enough to be sure that she knows better than those who live in Twickenham, I suppose.

    • ProudOfTW1

      DrNHS – oh no- she’s also been meddling in the ‘design’ process in Sheen so thinks she knows better than them too 😉 In fact her and Cllr Speak (before he was a counsellor) manipulated what was supposed to be a democratic vote to decide on the design of the footbridge over the railway. Zac Goldsmith had long campaigned for this to be something unique and not another network rail concrete bridge, and there was a genuinely open competition with some really interesting ideas. Unfortunately Cllr Speak came along with his idea and about 30 friends to vote for his design- so it wasn’t won on genuine merit. Cllr Fleming who was on the stage and supposed to be offering impartial comments was full of praise for his ‘design’- never mentioning the connection between them. What Stephen Speak produced was a photoshop of the treetop walkway in Kew super imposed on top of the railway line. As seems to be the problem with out counsellors, he seemed to have no idea of location site or context, and while the treetop walkway does indeed look fantastic in the trees- it does not necessarily translate over a railway line. And unfortunately as an amateur he had not considered a number of other factors that had to be included in the bridge design meaning that what was finally produced couldn’t be in any way like the walkway anyway. A real shame that better thought through designs that could have been genuinely implemented were passed over due to Speak’s posse disregarding the merits of any other design. And again a worrying indicator of our counsellors views towards a democratic vote.

  12. Pat Pending

    I actually agree with most of that but I would just put the Council part above the People part.

  13. David B

    People! One: we don’t need a Lido, just because there used to be one a million years ago. If you want to swim outside, get on a bus and support Hampton Pool. Wonder how many of you actually do? Two: three stories rather than two is hardly spoiling anything around it locally. Three: it ain’t going to pay for itself, so get over the fact there’ll be shops, and flats for rich folk in it. Four: chattering indecision has delayed redevelopment here forever, just like it delayed, but didn’t fundamentally change, the Station development (making life merry Hell in the World Cup) so can we please get on with this before more of us die from old age.

    Council! We don’t want Georgian pastiche; get yourself an architect with some imagination. And you had better have learnt from the Gloriana debacle: consult don’t impose and don’t think you know best: you are our servants not our masters.

    • Sally

      David ! Many of us do swim at the Hampton Lido. That is why we know what a wonderful setting for a Lido the site would be and how justly popular with locals.
      The idea of spending millions of our money on purchasing the site was to put up something which would enhance it such as a town square. We are not allowed to see the other plans and the lido idea was shut out. The most ardent fan of speedy developments would perhaps question that.
      Nowhere, and I have checked, was it mentioned that the new building on the site would be bigger and taller than the existing building, that even less of the river would be on view and that it would be flats and shops.
      I fear you are on a losing wicket trying to persuade the council that we are their masters ,or at least employers. We come a loooooooong way down on their Christmas card list !