Riverside Action Group

Data Protection and Information
Corporate Complaints and Access to Information Manager
Adult and Community Services
3rd Floor, Civic Centre
44 York St.

10th March 2016

Twickenham Riverside Proposals

Dear Sir or Madam,

We wish to register our formal complaint regarding the process and actions adopted by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Council in respect of the Riverside development at Twickenham.

The Riverside Action Group is a non-aligned group of residents concerned about the development of the sensitive Twickenham riverside site. It has collected signatures from residents across the entire Borough requesting that the Council suspend the process for advancing this development and replaces it with an open and fully consultative one. We request a full and reasoned response regarding the conduct of the process to date.

The accompanying report demonstrates the Council’s;

a. failure to follow due process and understand the definition of process;
b. misapplication of exemption to public release of information resulting in lack of transparency;
c. failure to evaluate the relative weight of public opinion;
d. failure to reflect the outcomes and expectations of public consultations;
e. failure to adopt good practice in choosing contractors; and
f. predetermination of the scheme outcome, incompatible with relevant policy, consultation and heritage considerations.

It is laudable that the Council wishes to pursue a solution for this site which has remained unresolved for too long. Commendably it adopted an openly consultative process at the outset which set expectations for future conduct. However it is unacceptable that it has moved away from these principles, operating without transparency and attempting to drive through a scheme in the face of local opposition.

In pursuing our objectives, one of our members, Martin Habell, issued two freedom of information (“FoI”) requests pursuant to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR”); e 18420 and e 18640. In our view, the responses to these have been inadequate and defective in refusing to reveal key information. In particular, the following information was requested:

• the Brief to architects;
• the four architects’ schemes submitted in response; and
• the quality evaluation of those schemes on which the appointment of the successful bidder was based.

Our Case, set out in the accompanying report, is that the Council has improperly applied EIR section 12 exemptions and the public interest test. This has bearing on the Council’s required actions.

The Council is required under EIR section 12(2) to apply a presumption in favour of disclosure. The Council’s responses to the FoI requests and reliance on the EIR section 12 exemption criteria are insufficient and do not override this presumption.

The Council justifies its refusal to issue information by asserting that the process is ongoing. We argue that process was completed at the point of the appointment of the Quinlan and Terry Practice on 31st July 2015 to progress to a full planning application.

Furthermore the Council’s refusal to issue the information requested is largely based on maintaining commercial confidentiality. This might have been reasonable if our application required the release of financial information. We did not ask for this. In any case it could have been redacted. We also note that the bidders have not sought to keep their schemes secret nor have they sought confidentiality in this regard.

In the blanket refusal to disclose any information we note the following response from the Officer:

“there may also be… a strong public interest in protecting such draft reports from exposure because of the risk of fruitless debate and interrogation of officials…”

The application of such words in this context suggests nothing will change the Council’s mind. That is an unacceptable response, and an improper application of the public interest test for disclosure of the requested information.

Separate but not unrelated to the FoI request we note in respect of the proposal now being taken forward that:

• Features such as a town square and river view sought in the Barefoot consultation and promised in the Twickenham Area Action Plan (TWAAP) are not delivered in the proposal;
• The “classical” style is totally inappropriate to the context and existing character of buildings and is not replicated elsewhere in the adjacent area;
• The proposal will kill the working waterfront identity that the Inspector of the TAAP emphasised be being ‘crucial to maintain’;
• No recognition has been made of the Twickenham heritage of riverfront style and use that is mentioned in important literature, poetry and painting as an iconic river fishing village;
• The successful Church Street extension, praised for its modesty, variety and historical relevance, was ignored in favour of a monumental approach in a style that is borrowed from Richmond with a different historical context;
• Apparently the Council chose to judge the winner behind closed doors without expert urban design analysis or recognised architecture, heritage and design expertise.

We maintain that:
• The Jury competition could not be said to be balanced and impartial
• Recent claims of more ‘consultation’ and change have left the public wondering who is now being consulted, by whom and in what context – location neighbours or Borough residents?
• The current process should be halted forthwith;
• An agreed brief that reflects the Barefoot Consultation and TAAP should be produced including public involvement;
• The stage calling for expressions of interest and submissions of schemes against the Brief should be re-run, including the four “shortlisted” schemes previously submitted and paid for from Council funds;
• Following Royal Institute of British Architects Association (RIBA) procurement guidelines, these should be judged via a process that includes public representation in expressing preferences and relevant expert opinion;
• Local residents should be given the chance to be informed to the maximum and to understand, in accord with Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the options available.
• A pause or hiatus for collective thought, reflection and dialogue is necessary;
• Given the long history of the site redevelopment and the time it will now take to gain full planning approval in the face of the opposition the current scheme will continue to generate, such a pause will not cause significant delay and may save time in the long run.

There is a collapse of public confidence. This is a Material Consideration in Law and the Council must prove otherwise, adhere to transparency, and re-engage with the public.

If your response is unsatisfactory we will refer the complaint to the Local Authority Ombudsman.

We also regard this complaint as germane to the planning application which must follow and, if not given adequate and proper consideration, may provide grounds for appeal against any permission so granted.

We also lodge an Appeal against the Freedom of Information Refusals. (Ref e /18420 & e/18640) in line with standard practice, and may refer this matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Yours Sincerely

Riverside Action Group