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.
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.
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.
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?
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