When the Lib Dems seized control of York House in May of this year, one of the first things they did was pull the plug on the unpopular scheme for Twickenham Riverside. Cue relief in many quarters that the plan championed by the previous Conservative administration had hit the buffers. But there was also a sense that the time to pause, take stock and come up with a better idea should not take too long. Please let it not take too long!!!! Yes, thorny issues need to be addressed but most Twickenham folk are going to have to accept some kind of compromise. Why? Because there are probably almost as many ideas for the site as there are people who care about what happens to it.
Many locals thought some sound, basic principles had been established in previous consultations both about Twickenham generally (remember that ol’ Barefoot thing?) and about the riverside site specifically but as we saw from the last lot’s plan, some aims were dodged (ahem, parking), some were whittled away at (ahem, shrinking town square) and some were just fudged (ahem, opening up the town centre to the river). Overlay that with architects appointed under a rather opaque ‘competition’ and it was all a bit of a mess. The withdrawal of the planning application and the New Brutes announcement that they would be having another try was welcome. Roll forward several months and in September El Brute announced that they’d be running a competition to find suitable new architects to work on the plans according to a new design brief. In addition we were told that some kind of Twickenham Riverside Design Group would be established to “judge each proposal and consider residents’ views”.
This all sounds jolly good but also quite familiar. A new design brief was something that most objectors to the last scheme were calling for, among them the Riverside Action Group in its early days before it went all weird and supported the previous Council’s scheme. So, “What is actually happening now?” you cry. Well, on 29 October Twickenham riverside wonks at York House will present their proposals to take the project forward to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The key components of the new approach are to:
- Establish a new Local Stakeholder Reference Group, made up of local community groups with an interest in the Riverside regeneration.
- Establish the new Twickenham Riverside Design Group to oversee the creation of the new design brief and evaluation of the submissions.
- Develop a new design brief for the site – working alongside independent architectural experts.
- Hold a Design Competition the eventual outcome of which would see shortlisted proposals being published for public consultation in 2019.
Sounds like a plan. The intention is then that this would get Council Cabinet approval in mid November. Let’s just say that we hope the new brief really is open to fresh input and ideas but also builds on some key principles about making best use of the riverside for all. El Brute says it wants to incorporate local views aired so far (of which there are many) but also to take account of voices that have not been heard so far. Quite! Listening to the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea is important but not everyone is a member of those organisations, or the other ones. And what about the yoofs? Aren’t they supposed to be the future or our biggest asset or something?
El Brute Leader, Gareth ‘Red Robbo’ Roberts said “We have one shot to get this right. We can do better. Let’s be ambitious for Twickenham, together”. Correct but perhaps it should include the word ‘last’ before the word ‘one’. After failed efforts from Councils of different political hues and long periods of inertia we should all hope that this time is the final time we need to go through this process and that something can actually be built that the town can be proud of.
Although El Brute is not currently actively consulting on the plans or process there are a series of Community Conversations coming up, including one on 15th October at Clarendon Hall, York House. You can show up and give some opinions to the Council on local matters so why not add this to the mix as well as the current active consultation on 20mph speed limits.
Here at Twickerati HQ we’re just hoping that the process is, errr, transparent, fair, not overly long, respects the wishes of the majority of residents, doesn’t give disproportionate sway to any one particular interest group, looks at the riverside site as a whole including the Diamond Jubilee Gardens, is financially viable without being overly commercialised, creates an asset for the town, has the potential to inspire, is architecturally contemporary and relevant and is not a pastiche of the past, is something which will work all year round, has a decent ‘multi-use’ town square, finds a solution to the current situation of giving over prime river frontage to car parking, makes Richmond jealous, and, of course, incorporates an old ice cream van. Is that so really so much to ask?
Over to you El Brute. And over to you Twickenham.