St Mary’s Expansion Plans Cause Local Concern

Forget trouble at t’mill, there’s trouble at t’Hill.  A plan for a big expansion of St Mary’s University is causing consternation among the residents of leafy Strawberry Hill.  The university, “off of Mo Farah”, has a grand vision to grow in size and prestige over the period to 2025. So far, so normal. So normal, perhaps until the scale of the plan becomes apparent.

The aim is to increase student numbers by close to 60% from just under 6,000 to around 9,000 and make room for them by building on the existing athletic and sports facilities at the Waldegrave Road site and developing their Teddington Lock playing fields with a new track, pitch and infrastructure.

St Mary’s University, Waldegrave Road

Concerned Strawberry Hillers (or are they Hillites?) fear the large expansion in student numbers and the accompanying new ‘student village’ will put excessive stain on their sleepy streets, fill them with students (and their cars) and generally have a detrimental impact on the area, with knock-on effects into Twickenham and Teddington. This development would also require building over Metropolitan Open Land, causing a loss of valuable green space.

Waldegrave Road sports fields and open space

Whilst we all want da yoof to get a good education ready for the exciting post-Brexit world, a 60% expansion in numbers at what is essentially a small educational establishment tucked away in a leafy suburb of a leafy suburb (yeah, deal with it, Hillers) does constitute a material change in scale.  New student halls (up to 11 in total) and new teaching blocks? Would things progress quite so smoothly if the construction work was for residential housing? We’re not so sure. But then again…

St Mary’s, Teddington Lock, playing fields

Traffic and parking is already a big issue on and around Waldegrave Road and ramping up the infrastructure at Teddington Lock will add to parking pressure in that neck of the woods too.

St Mary’s: new buildings go here. Accommodation in blue, teaching in pink

The St Mary’s “Vision 2025” states: “The intensely competitive environment for universities in the UK makes this a critical and exhilarating period in our drive to make St Mary’s a leading university. However, we start from a position of strength. We have a distinct mission and purpose, and a clear vision of the future”.  St Mary’s have worked with El Brute on a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) setting out how the estate could be developed in a way that will help deliver that vision.

However that vision is not one that chimes with some local residents.  The Neighbours of St Mary’s group are hoping to make the University and the Council take note of their concerns over the planned expansion. A representative told twickerati: “We think if the development is allowed to go ahead, it will destroy Strawberry Hill village forever, at a time when the Council themselves are trying to increase the village feel as part of their recent Village Planning… Why can’t the University do what others have successfully done, building second campus sites or spreading halls around an area using brownfield, low impact or town centre sites?”

So there you have it, the conundrum of a grand educational vision but one which will have a significant impact on a quiet residential neighbourhood. Who’s right? You decide.

St Mary’s are running drop in sessions on from 6pm to 8pm on 24th April 2017 and again on 6th May 2017 (10.30am-4pm). Stop by if you want to find out more or have your say, or click on the links below.

* St Mary’s University – Vision 2025
* Neighbours of St Mary’s University – local residents group


Filed under Council, Local Issues & News

39 responses to “St Mary’s Expansion Plans Cause Local Concern

  1. J

    I’ve had occasion to talk with various staff and students of SMU lately, and over recent time. The management of the place now emphasises religious fairytales and is caught up in a fantasy of world domination or something like that. Frances Campbell was a diplomat, and he treats his staff as if they were civil servants owing him service. Staff wish they could be appreciated for offering the uniqueness of a small, teaching university, focussed on the students. Campbell thinks he can attract loads of high-paying American catholic students and thereby gain a profit-making institution. He’s got it all totally wrong.

  2. aristophanes

    Isn’t it a bit strange that Sir Vince, who was in charge of Universities when he was in the Coalition government, has now apparently pledged to oppose expansion. I scent opportunism. It may be that many residents, other than vocal locals, may support the proposals. I don’t know – does he?

    • Alexis

      Spot on Aristophanes – Sir Vince is a past master of the art and still doesn’t miss a trick, after all, he’s had plenty of practice.

    • illiad1

      I may remind you of other tory MPs who started out nice, until they were influenced by the other greedier ones, and told they must agree with a the ‘land grab’ from more powerful Lords…

  3. I wonder if the extra accommodation/facilities are more to do with raising the university’s income from events other than housing students? Each summer I go to an organisation’s conference based at different universities during their vacation times and they seem intent on racking up the numbers attending for various events during their down-time. The bigger the venue, the more they can cram in and the more money is generated. Student halls are rather wonderfully equipped these days – I envy the luxury compared with my own student days. I’d be surprised if this isn’t a cash-grabbing exercise, long term with student-number-expansion as a mere by-product. This is only a guess – I’m probably wrong. But possibly not..

    • Sally

      I think you may well be right. Having housing built there,is surely a sure win for the institution and for any developer.Unis do make a lot of money from renting out their student accommodation,If the Uni folds, well then, the student housing can be converted or knocked down and more luxurious housing built.

    • Alexis

      I have just received an election flyer from Sir Vince about St Mary’s Uni expansion plans.
      The first 5 para’s are simply facts and puff, however the 6’th makes interesting reading to those of us who became members of RUG and dared to challenge our, then, LibDem Council’s plan to sell off Twickenham Riverside for luxury housing – I quote Sir Vince:

      “On the subject of the council, some residents have expressed their deep misgivings because they believe that the Conservative leadership on Richmond Council is so supportive of the present proposals that they would be prepared to see them implemented in their entirety. Rest assured that should you elect me as your MP I won’t hesitate to ensure your concerns are given full consideration by all local decision makers; if that means making myself unpopular with the local council, so be it.”

      Isn’t it strange that, given his last sentence, he was unwilling to stand up to LibDem leader Serge Lourie’s bullying tactics and said that, since he was our MP, he didn’t get involved in local issues? plus ca change!

      It might well have been one of the reasons he lost his seat. I rather hope he doesn’t win it back.

    • Ellen

      On the subject of Vince Cable’s support, I agree he has not been as active in local political matters as residents have wanted him to be in the past. But promising to support local residents in this matter is a step up from not promising to do so, which is what we are getting from Mathias, the only other horse in this race. With an election to win he has made a public promise about this issue — the fact that he has done so will make it easier to hold his feet to the fire if he wins.

    • Alexis

      A good point Ellen.
      However, let’s not forget that, if elected, Vince has no chance of a role in government again and back bench MP’s, as he will be if elected, can huff and puff as much as they like and still be ignored.
      Did you hear his party leader, Tim Farron on BBC Today this morning – wasn’t he awful?
      May I suggest that you contact the Teddington Society , if you have not already done so. They are very active and, almost certainly have a view on the unwanted Uni expansion.

  4. David

    Riverside Voter hits the nail on the head: when SMU goes t**s up academically, the site would have huge value as a saleable, developed housing estate.

    • I agree that failure followed by ‘merger’ (= takeover) by a stronger neighbour and closure and sale is inevitable. The local precedent for this is the ‘Brunel’ site in south Isleworth, which was one of the homes of the West London Institute of Higher Education (itself created by the merger of Borough Road and Maria Grey teacher training colleges and Chiswick Polytechnic).

      It was merged into Brunel (whose main campus is in Uxbridge) and closed 10 years later. It is now the Richmond Lock gated housing estate –

      If getting permission for redevelopment proves problematic an overseas buyer might be found, a US or East Asia based university wishing to set up a London-based campus to cater for the children of the New Rich seeking a congenial finishing school, where the tutors would pretend to teach and examine and the students to study but the main purpose would be enjoy what London offers in abundance – history, culture, young people from everywhere and the chance to practice their English on some natives.

  5. Ex-Twickenham Resident

    Just chucking an idea into the mixer – online courses seem to be the future for some students. MOOCS (massive open online courses) have been popular for some years and now Universities in America and also here are exploring the format to offer accredited degrees.

    This website aggregates all the different providers and one can see the massive choice available.

    While the courses listed are not degree courses, the Universities are testing the format to perhaps offer fully accredited degree courses in the future.
    Sure would cut down on parking in Waldegrave Rd.

    • Riverside Voter

      That’s not true, Oxford, Cambridge, Birkbeck, the Open University, and I think a few others, do degree level courses online that enable you to earn credits that would eventually add up to a degree though it is a long, and expensive, road. However once again with places with the competitive advantages of Oxford and Birkbecks brands, and long experience of delivering excellent courses run by academics who are world class to a non conventional student body, what would St Mary’s have to offer in the way of competitive advantage?

    • Ex-Twickenham Resident

      I am aware of the courses you mention and as you say are credits towards a degree rather than a full all in one degree course. What is being explored is for a student to sign up online to a degree in a specific subject with a specific time frame to a specific syllabus, not a module on a pay as you go and when you wish basis. You will also notice these courses you mention do not need any qualification to enroll other than £300+ per module. Anyway why I mentioned this in the first place is, that it might be the case that Universities like SMT are expanding when students are looking to do courses online. It is just an idea…that is all.

  6. Hester Huttenbach

    St. Mary’s have submitted a planning application for a 4/5 storey building for 49 student bedrooms at the bottom of Norcutt Road which is a residential road of Victorian cottages. If you would like to see the scale of the design please visit Richmond planning applications Ref : 17/1033/FUL and any objections would be greatfully received. Maybe they could convert some of the Brewery Gate conference building instead.

    • Ellen

      I’ve just had a look at the plans, Hester, and I can’t believe them. Three parking spaces for 49 student rooms? They must be joking. Parking is horrendous in the nearby streets already — they can’t possibly get away with this. I don’t live in that area, but I will submit a response anyway.

    • Here’s the link:

      17/1033: Demolition of Lockcorp House; erection of a part four, part five-storey building comprising 9 no. student cluster flats (49 study/bedrooms in total); three car parking spaces including one disabled space, ancillary cycle and refuse storage and landscaping.

    • Riverside Voter

      The Brewery Gate conference centre is supposed to be a community resource, the benefit of which was part of the rationale of agreeing the whole development. It remains to be seen how and if St Mary’s deliver that benefit but it certainly would not be delivered by a block of student flats.

  7. Jayne

    Ahhh, expand the university…when a recent UCAS report states that both domestic and overseas applications are falling, I’d love to hear how SMU plan to buck this trend.
    Perhaps if they want to remain a player in the HE world and climb up the university rankings, they would be better concentrating on what they could improve on (e.g. research and publication) rather than simply going bigger.
    I believe SMU rely a fair amount on clearing to fill some of their courses as it is.

    • Riverside Voter

      Massive expansion is an old higher education strategy from the pre fee, pre Brexit days. If universities much further up the tables like Birmingham are developing new strategies in response to the more difficult environment, particularly in terms of attracting students, then it seems complete madness for a university that already was struggling in terms of competitive advantage outside its particular specialisms to plough on with an old outdated business model. I suppose though if it fails they will have a valuable asset in terms of housing……

      However in Planning terms as someone who lives near another Catholic educational institution much valued by Lord True it is pretty inevitable that it will get the nod through Planning with little regard for local residents…..

    • Sally

      Ah. Yes, Lord True’s well documented fondness for Catholic educational establishments may well be a problem, I had not considered that .
      Otherwise I can’t see how any “exceptional circumstances” case can be made out. Will nobody rid us of this ridiculous over development plan ?

      One tactic we locals are wearily familiar with is heavily biased consultation questionnaires steering respondents into generalities which , it can then be claimed, the new build would more than meet. The questionnaires will not allow respondents the option of refusing the build altogether so,it is impossible to fill them out without appearing to support some aspect of the development.

      At the very least the wannabe developers can then cite how many consultations they have held as reason to be allowed to proceed. “You can’t say we don’t listen to the community! We have consulted you several times! “( Viz. the riverside site.)

      Perhaps any consultation which does not allow respondents the option of refusing the scheme in total should protested and rejected before it gets off the ground?

  8. Susannah Robert

    Whilst I understand the concerns of residents, the need for development comes as a direct result if the marketisation of Higher Education. If s St. Mary’s is to remain a ‘player’ in the world if HE the expansion is vital.

    • Ellen

      If St Mary’s maintains its great teacher training programs it will remain a ‘player’ in teacher training. And if it maintains the quality of its sports courses it will remain a ‘player’ in sports education. Size is no indicator of quality in education. And adding new programs to attract new students is absolutely no guarantee that those programs will be any good or will improve the university’s standing.

    • David

      St Mary’s is currently ranked #118 out of 127 UK Universities. No doubt other tables are available. I await one that puts them remotely near the top.

      In what sense is it ‘a player’ even now?. And why will simply providing more places at a Fourth Division institution ensure its success? Why not improve academic excellence with the existing student numbers or develop some specialisms rather than saying “Please come here: we have lots more places at our poorly-performing ‘Uni’: oh and by the way, the fees are as high as anywhere else”? I recruit and I wouldn’t look twice at anyone from SMU, especially having seen the students in the locality. They need to change that before churning out more graduates.

      The current approach is incoherent and damaging and SMU need to explain themselves and stop talking in HE newspeak to be taken seriously. Oh, and to explain why they lied about not taking any more MOL and, having lied, why we should believe a word they say.

    • You clearly don’t understand the concerns of the residents, as no one is saying that St Mary’s shouldn’t be better! I think everyone would welcome a leading university into the neighbourhood rather than this bottom of the table institute. The concern is why build 15 new blocks on the local MOL – build it elsewhere. Plenty of other sites (brown-field) in the Borough and plenty of other universities have separate teaching and housing campuses. St Mary’s just isn’t developing in the right way (both academically and physically), and it is putting the community at the bottom it’s highly risky development agenda.

  9. Justamoment

    I comment here as a ‘Strawberry Hiller’ and therefore a neighbour of St Mary’s. While I generally wish the University well, the key problem for me is their blithe assumption to override the legal protections for Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). St Mary’s also appears to be ignoring its commitment to local residents, at the time of the last expansion, in a Deed jointly with the local Council, undertaking no future loss of MOL. To go back on such assurance is for me as much a moral issue as a legal one.

    In any case, it seems short-sighted for the University to destroy one of their USPs – their beautifully open campus – when alternative solutions appear to exist; alternatives which could include making use of the apparent availability of student accommodation in nearby Kingston.

  10. Bill

    What the author fails to mention is that there was a binding clause when permission was granted for the new sports building (on the right of the second picture) that there would be no more new development on the site. This building was granted as a one off exception to the MOL development regulations.

    This is now being ignored by the university and, it seems, by the council as well.

    • Sally

      It is great to hear of the clause-how binding is it? Or was it (dread word) an undertaking ?

    • Sally – the clause is at 3.4 in here

      Also there are the minutes of the meeting here:

      In reality it really depends on what the council want to enforce (even though they are representing the public). Also some councillor are against this and seem to be promoting it (for other reasons).

    • Sally

      Thanks for the link.There it is, clear as day. How on earth are the development plans to be justified in the face of that?
      I have been searching around and it is quite difficult to see how legally binding such a covenant is. At quite a few local development and indeed licensing proposals it has been uncanny how the most solemn undertakings not to take a step further turn out to be legally unenforceable ,unremembered hot air shortly after. This really can’t be allowed to go ahead.

    • For leasehold property it works like this: A, the leaseholder, covenants with B, the freeholder, to comply with the conditions of the lease re noise, access, etc. If A then assigns (‘sells’ in lay terms) the lease to C the covenant lapses UNLESS C enters into a fresh covenant; so the initial covenant must include a condition requiring this to be done before the lease is assigned.

      So in this case the university is bound by the covenant but if it sells the land the purchaser won’t be. This explains why most old covenants are worthless.

      An added wrinkle: only B can enforce the covenant, i.e. in this case the Council NOT the residents.

      Caveat: this is what I have learned from living in a leasehold flat for 40+ years, negotiating new leases and attempting to enforce them – I am NOT a lawyer.

  11. Ellen

    There is no way the university can nearly double in size without permanently changing its character, as well as the character of Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill is going to be a university town instead of a residential village, and we locals will become “townies.” Please come to the consultation evening tonight at SMU if you can! It’s a drop in from 6-8pm, but residents are meeting at 5:40pm at the main gate to enter it together.

  12. CCMC

    SMU want to exploit, destroy and sacrifice the communities green belt land for career, financial and political gain. They are not interested in the students education experience but see an opportunity to beat their London education competitors by developing thousands of low cost London based student beds on MOL green belt. They are no longer a good neighbour of Strawberry Hill but a badly managed, plundering menace that should sell the campus back to the council for education use i.e local schools and retain all the grass sports fields.

  13. Sally

    Agree. Sports studies and the excellent fields and sports facilities are currently pretty well St Mary’s only selling point.And yet they are planning to build all over their sports fields,destroying a great deal of green space in the process . They will then have a mediocre university indistinguishable from a housing estate. I am not sure if greater numbers of students will rush to enrol.

  14. George

    I agree with David. The plans are top heavy for such a small site. The big rise in numbers will swamp the Waldegrave Road site and detract from the main things that St Mary’s is currently famous for. It will become just another average university with some sports facilities ‘down the road’.

  15. Sally

    While it’s always terrific to see a University expand, I would be very sorry to see the site built up. iIf only because Strawberry Hill house and grounds will feel a lot smaller and hemmed in. The entire site is what remains of the lovely gardens of the great house, and although the Mary’s bit was sold off by darstardly heirs , it not being too built up allowed the house to at leas appear surrounded with iits sweeping grounds, and the volunteers have been working hard to restore the bits they can.

  16. David

    So SMU’s strategy to deal with being a ‘University’ outside the top 100, at a time when Brexit will mean fewer overseas students and also when UK students, faced with increased fees, are becoming ever more choosy about doing a good degree at a good university, is to increase places at their college by 50%. In the process destroying the one thing- sport- they have any reputation for. All the while ruining the local environment particularly by increasing traffic and wiping out green space. Great plan. Outstanding. Anyone else wondering why the principals at SMU haven’t been snapped up by A major business or a leading university? Me neither. Retrench, specialise, live within your means SMU. This way lies business and reputational disaster.