Sorting out Twickenham Riverside. It’s like Brexit but harder. This week Richmond Council, in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), has launched a competition for design ideas for ye olde riverside site. It’s all part of LBRuT (aka El Brute) re-starting the process to improve that piece of prime land right next to Father Thames in God’s Own Outer London Suburb.

View from Eel Pie Island bridge

What’s the story? It goes a little bit like this…

The RIBA competition is all about getting some inspirational and practical ideas to convert the site from a mish-mash of old buildings, unused spaces and land where priority is given to vehicles rather than people into something, well, better.  Or as it says in the brief: “The design will allow the public to enjoy the full beauty and utility of the riverside, improving the physical link between the river and the town, to define Twickenham as a distinctive destination with a rich cultural history, and a great place to live, work and visit”. Jolly good. It also chucks in important words and phrases like, ‘appropriate’, ‘heritage’, and ‘stands the test of time’. Lovely stuff.  In the opening blurb, Council Boss Man, Gareth ‘Red Robbo’ Roberts says it’s “a great opportunity to deliver real change through an exciting, energising and inspiring design”. We hope so. You hope so. The previous administration’s scheme was lacklustre to say the least, having been born out of a rather opaque ‘competition’ which then involved assorted architects taking over the baton and a lot of “Council computer says no”.  You could almost see the blue plaque being unveiled: “Designed in Britain. By Committees”.

It’s Competition Time, RIBA style

The approach involving RIBA and defined stakeholder groups will make for a more structured and more transparent process. It should also lead to better proposals. Sure, there are going to be differences of opinion on many aspects of the scheme but at least we should be able to have a clearer process of decision making and consultation than on the previous, failed attempts. And yes, there will need to be some compromises. 100% support for any idea just ain’t gonna happen but if the end product is a scheme that most people can look at and say, “Yes, that’s actually a pretty good result” then it can be deemed a success.

Riverside near Water Lane

We’re told the key design features in any proposal must be high quality, appropriate, sustainable and reflect the riverside setting (in both the buildings and potential uses of the site).  Wise words although, of course, subject to interpretation. Flood risk gets a clear mention too. Very wise words. Housing is listed as an ‘essential’ but with any housing being at least 50% affordable.  The rest can be flats or ‘luxury apartments’ depending on your spin. Expect some commercial or retail too.

In terms of other hot topics, the brief refers to “removal of parking on the riverside” defined as Embankment between Wharf and Water Lanes whilst maintaining access to Eel Pie Island for services, business and residents.  Information will be provided later in the process to inform proposals about re-provisioning parking elsewhere and vehicle circulation. The broad aim? An accessible, pedestrian and cycle friendly environment next to the river. Sounds good but clearing cars off Embankment will still be controversial for some in the immediate area.

Site plan for Twickenham Riverside Development

Muchos chit chat too on Twitter about a lido… or not.  El Brute state that the intention has been to keep the brief as open as possible to encourage a range of designs and ideas. This would not preclude a lido, ice rink or even a gladiatorial arena if any of the entrants want to pitch for one. One thing that does get mentioned for inclusion in a mixed use scheme is a town square which can provide a focal point for events and activities.  We hope it’s bigger than the one in the previous scheme which was a tad on the small side and separated from the open space of the Diamond Jubilee Gardens by a flipping great, big building.  “And what of the DJG?” you cry. Well, in the last Richmond Council scheme it was left untouched but this time, more sensibly, it is included in the site parameters with the caveat that public space must be included in the new scheme which continues to meet the Riverside Trust’s objectives.  In other words it’s imperative to have something similar or better within the new scheme but that does not have to mean the Gardens are left untouched in exactly the same format and place as they are now. Tick. In fact there’s a lot in the brief about open spaces, drawing people into the town, linking to the river heritage and generally making it a good place to be.

Obvs, how these design proposals get judged and the objectivity of who’s judging them is key but overall the new design competition gives a clearer and better start to what we hope will be a much improved process compared to last time out.  Closing date for entries is 7th May and shortlisted pitches will receive £6,500 for their troubles. El Brute expects about five schemes to make the shortlist and get through to the next, detailed design stage.

Fancy having a pop at it yourself? Go on, you know you want to.

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