TWICKENHAM COMMUNITY BRIEF
What does the community want for its riverside?
A document prepared by the Riverside Action Group
WHAT IS RAG?
The Riverside Action Group (RAG) is a group of Twickenham residents who believe that the future of our riverside should be determined, not by political parties, but by the people who live and work here, and that the end result should be in harmony with the site and its legacy.
There are a number of schemes circulating, but RAG is not supporting one scheme over another. RAG exists to find out what people of all ages and backgrounds want from their riverside, and to distil these ideas into one coherent brief. We want to ensure that the Council, together with architects and landscape designers who will be asked to work on the project, can come up with a design for the riverside that sympathetically meets the needs of the community. To create this document, RAG has collected opinions from residents, youth groups and traders through local media, public meetings, petitions, interviews, comments on our website, and liaison with members of various local interest groups.
RAG asserts that the community brief should be used to guide a professional and neutral briefing team that will be assigned to prepare a comprehensive brief for the site; a brief that truly reflects the aspirations and needs of local residents and businesses. The entire process must be transparent at all times and be open to active public participation and scrutiny.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: A FRESH START
RAG has learnt that the majority of Twickenham’s residents want a riverside development that is in harmony with the whole riverside site, one that upholds community spirit and the heritage of Twickenham. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity for future generations to create a ‘heart’ of Twickenham for the future.
RAG commends the purchase by the Council of the Santander, M. & Co., Superdrug block but it also endorses the residents’ view that the purchase will be a lost investment if this welcome initiative is not used to open up the vista and approach to the riverside. The Council has proposed a concept designed by architect Francis Terry of the Quinlan Terry Practice. The style is totally out of keeping with the spirit of Twickenham; it closes off the riverside and dominates the riverbank and island. The plan was resoundingly rejected in the Council’s own consultation of 2015. The Council say it is listening to our views, and are making alterations to the design, but Councillors are refusing to acknowledge that it was the whole concept that was rejected. It is therefore vital that this concept is taken off the table and we return to the design stage to ensure the brief contains the elements that Twickenham’s community wants and needs. Architectural practices, including Quinlan Terry Practice, may then be invited to submit their designs.
RAG wants the community brief to inform a new process, that is transparently run and neutrally managed with active local public participation, not merely ‘consultation’. It is worth noting that the issue of the Twickenham Riverside is one that has blighted various councils as far back as 1923. This is largely due to the initiatives imposed from the top down. The message is clear: local residents cooperate well when actively participating in finding a solution.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR RIVERSIDE
- To provide a Town Centre – a heart – for Twickenham that clearly defines our town and its working riverside
- A whole site solution that runs from King Street to the river, bounded by Water and Wharf Lanes, incorporating the Diamond Jubilee Gardens. The whole area needs to be developed as a harmonious area
- It should be mainly open space, bordered by buildings. An overwhelming feedback has been that people do not want a huge building, they do not want a block of flats, nor do they want shops; any buildings should fit in with the height, scale and spirit of the existing riverside
- Our new riverside should be a space for public enjoyment, a hub for the local community and a draw for visitors to the town. The 1960’s music heritage of Eel Pie Island, for instance, is a legacy worth celebrating, alongside the history of a working riverfront
- Shopkeepers want an attractive area to which people are drawn. They believe if people are given a reason to visit Twickenham, footfall in the current shops will increase and the business community begin once more to thrive. This opinion has been borne out by the last two Town Managers.
WHAT THE COMMUNITY WANTS
Obviously not everyone will ever agree about everything, but the comments, requirements and suggestions below have come up over and over again.
- Twickenham should have an open town centre that defines our town as a working riverside town, making it attractive to residents and encouraging visitors.
- The riverside should be enhanced as a working waterfront taking its cue from Eel Pie Island opposite, from the Embankment church and surroundings. This may be expressed in style and boat-related uses, and could draw on the Eel Pie artists/craft/high-tech industries to provide working studios and exhibition spaces
- The scheme should capture the spirit of the river as laid out in the Thames Landscape Strategy. It should plug into the ribbon of landscape and heritage from Twickenham to Richmond
- The scheme must be sensitive to the wild life and nature reserves on Eel Pie Island and across the river at Ham
- There should be a memorable view to the river from King Street
- A design must take into account the changing nature and tides of the river.
- Public toilets
- Market and craft outlets and space for pop-up opportunities. There is a need here to link up with Church Street so that retail and catering businesses can share in the benefits of the new space
- A waterside signature restaurant, possibly on the Eel Pie theme that attracts people from outside of the Borough
- Activity areas that will make the riverside attractive to young people and are available for family use
- The scheme should include defined open-air spaces, carefully landscaped, defining activities and views of our small waterfront town
- A space for performance, festivals, drama and music to celebrate Twickenham’s artistic heritage, in particular Eel Pie Island’s contribution to the music scene of the 1960’s
- Appropriate facilities to accommodate riverside sports and leisure activities
- Retain a cycle route connecting the embankment to the riverside
- The issue of parking along the embankment is contentious. There are members of the community who wish to see the area as a car free zone. Parking and access however is required to support the working waterfront. Businesses in the town centre and on Eel Pie Island, residents of the Island and Embankment and occupants of flats in the town centre need parking.
Many visitors to the town centre use the embankment for short term parking and the effect of reducing this parking on economic viability of the town centre needs to be considered. The use of this area needs to be studied scientifically. Following from the advice provided by the Inspector, Twickenham Area Action Plan (TAAP), RAG emphasises the requirement for a comprehensive and independent parking and traffic flow study that takes into account not only Twickenham riverside but also the town centre
- The bridge to the island needs access. The requirement for unloading facilities at the bottom of Eel Pie Bridge is essential to sustain the businesses on Eel Pie Island together with the recreational activity of the clubs and the island’s viability as a place to live. It is critical that this development supports life and commerce on Eel Pie Island
- Water Lane should have a safe pedestrian route
- Secure cycle parking
- Existing facilities on the site, such as the Hands Charity, need to be upgraded and supported, or else sympathetically relocated
A RIVERSIDE STYLE FOR A RIVERSIDE TOWN
PARKING AND OTHER PRACTICALITIES
HOUSING AND PLANNING
- New urban planning trends encourage healthy urban living. The choice of a sympathetic architect/landscape designer for this project is imperative. The riverside regeneration needs a practice with experience in the encouragement of social cohesion and the designing out of vandalism and anti-social behaviour. The development of our riverside and its unique setting provide a wonderful opportunity to capitalise on the best of these ideas
- RAG acknowledges that any project of this kind will need to include an element of ‘economic return’, although time and again, the local community has rejected the idea of housing developments on the riverside. Any housing that needs to be included should be modest, in proportion, and confined to the back of King Street, not the riverside.
- The service road running parallel to King Street should be just that
The results of the design competition organised by the Council has certainly made people think about what they do not want on the riverside. What they do want is a riverside that reflects the town in which they live, work and relax, that is popular with residents and clearly financially viable. The Community understands better than outsiders the spirit of Twickenham, the history of Twickenham’s riverside and the residents’ ambitions for future generations.
CAPITALISING ON OUR ASSETS
Sir David Attenborough’s reference to Twickenham as ”The People’s Landscape” expresses the fierce sense of ownership all Borough residents have expressed over the generations to preserve what they value. Their campaigning has preserved the Twickenham riverside from thoughtless, bland development. We have a unique opportunity to regenerate our riverside and we should recall our Twickenham motto ‘looking backward, looking forward’ in order to design for future generations. In the past, the riverside has reflected popular activities and pastimes: 18th Century artists and poets of note were inspired by this “picturesque” riverside fishing village and immortalised it in print and paint; in Dickens’ times, passenger steamers puffed up from London bringing city clerks and families for weekend trips for eel pies; in the 1960’s the Island lit a rocking spark that started a music revolution. Eel Pie Island, with its artistic community and working boat yards, has always been a draw and a unique asset to our Borough, and our riverside should celebrate this.
AN ATTRACTION FOR THE WHOLE BOROUGH
Six years have passed since the Barefoot Consultation. Important elements that were expected of the scheme back then were not included in the Council’s plan, and new ideas have since emerged. Residents and traders, concerned about breathing life back into Twickenham, are not being actively involved in the solution. Twickenham Town centre has suffered for too long from the pull of Richmond and Kingston. We could be on a more level footing with our neighbours if our unique riverside became a draw for visitors to our town. Our new riverside should be a celebration of all that is essentially ‘Twickenham Town’ and thus a potential attraction for the whole of the Borough. Increased visitor numbers would in turn help support local traders and leisure facilities.
A PLEA FOR OUR VOICES TO BE HEARD
Currently the whole Riverside is a patchwork of unrelated spaces. If any rejuvenation is to succeed it has been agreed by all Twickenham interest groups that we need to look at the whole picture. This is Our Riverside. We, the community, need a comprehensive, sympathetic solution that is led and driven by the community.
It’s interesting to note that similar requests have been made off and on since 1923 and have been repeated in various forms through the last seven decades.
RAG is grateful to the many contributors to this document, for the time given and insights and anecdotes provided. It is time for their voices to be heard.