[Contents Page]

[Previous Section]

[Next Section]




2.2.1  The public asset as a building



Figure 1 - Twickenham Swimming Pool Site - click for an enlarged view
Figure 1: Twickenham swimming pool site
(Click on the map to download an enlarged version - 88kB)

Since the Twickenham swimming pool was closed 20 years ago, the Council has made several attempts to redevelop the site. These have all failed for one reason or another.

In 1996 the Council invited bids for a new development and ultimately invited Alsop Zogolovitch to be preferred developers. Their original proposal depended upon funding from the National Lottery which was refused. They then submitted a revised proposal that attracted public opposition on an unprecedented scale and was withdrawn in February 1999.

The Council took note of the criticisms and laid down some criteria for revision of the proposed development. It set up working parties comprised of local people, a variety of experts with skills in business, design and traffic management, officers of the Council and elected representatives. Their task was to make proposals for appropriate development and to advise on the resolution of contentious points of the developer's scheme. The developer has since made a number of alternative proposals, two of which the Council is taking to public consultation.

One of these has a tangible public asset in the form of a novel type of Discovery/Heritage Centre celebrating and promoting Twickenham's riverside and culture. The other is a fully commercial scheme, with the principle benefit to the public being a sum of money paid by the developer to the Council. This report describes the concept and practicalities of the Centre in detail.

In both schemes there is a mix of flats with exclusive underground parking, shops, restaurants, leisure centres, and a piazza, adjacent to the Centre, that will be available for markets and outside performances.

The challenge for this working party has been to devise a place that will be unique to Twickenham and will add a touch of class to the area. In the United States there has been a rapid expansion of Discovery Centres. They have interactive exhibits that absorb the interest of young and old alike. They strongly reflect the interests and culture of the local community and are strongly supported by it. They can be science or arts based or a mixture of both. As a consequence, there is no standard model, all are unique. They are tailored to the resources, aspirations and heritage of the community. The common features are that they are very popular and reckoned to be a good spot to go for an afternoon or day out.

The obvious working name for such a place is "The Twickenham Experience or Adventure", but that is firmly associated in the minds of the residents and the world with the invasion of rugby supporters on big match days. "Eel Pie," however, is associated with the traditions of the river, the local community of artists, legendary entertainment and fun. Accordingly we have adopted as a working name "The Eel Pie Centre", though for brevity in this report it is usually referred to as the Centre.



The site imposes severe constraints on the options open to the developer. Failure to comply with one or several of these that have led to the rejection of earlier schemes. Any Centre that is proposed has to work within the limitations of the site and the development as a whole. The working party has kept these in mind throughout their deliberations.


The site is situated alongside the river Thames in central Twickenham. It is relatively small and rectangular, with sides of 125m and 50m. The side that opens onto The Embankment is subject to flooding. The other long side is separated from the backs of the shops and flats in King St by a narrow service road. The two short sides of the site are adjacent to residences.


Vehicular access is restricted to one-way roads.

There is an aspiration to have The Embankment as a traffic-free zone, but at present it is a public highway and its use is vital for the emergency services, local businesses and residents.

There are a limited number of parking places on or near the site. These are heavily used by local businesses, sports clubs, visitors and residents.

All supplies and materials to Eel Pie Island have to be ported across a pedestrian bridge or carried by barge. There has to be good access at the end of the Eel Pie bridge for loading and manoeuvring vehicles that are sometimes 15m long.


The site is in a conspicuous position in a conservation area and various planning documents and reports have set strict criteria for its development (Appendix 2). The major public concerns are about the scale of development and the functionality of any buildings placed on the site.

In 1991 the Planning Inspector in charge of the enquiry into the proposed M&S development laid down guidelines that specified that any development of the site should be on the scale of the existing pool buildings and that it should consist of small units rather than large blocks. He also stressed the need for it to fit well with the local context.

The site has been designated primarily for leisure purposes and any development upon it should relate to the river.


The site is owned by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (LBRuT). In disposing of the site, it has an obligation to get the best value for it, bearing in mind its obligations to meet publicly acknowledged strategic objectives. In other words, "best value" has a social benefit dimension as well as a financial one.

The Council is not willing to subsidise any activity on the site, but as part of "best value" it is requiring the developer to provide a substantial public asset from the development. This may take the form of a significant public building and/or public open space. Alternatively, the Council may take the benefit from the site as cash and earmark that for some specific purpose. LBRuT has already done this with the redevelopment of the Richmond ice rink and Twickenham's Water Lane car park.

During a series of public meetings in which these alternatives were discussed it was made very clear that the public prefers a tangible asset with the money from the development being reinvested in the swimming pool site, and not elsewhere in the Borough.


There are long-established business, social and residential communities in the riverside area, on the mainland and on the island in roughly equal proportions.

The development needs to enhance the existing community, not displace it.

Boatyards on Eel Pie Island


2.2.1  The public asset as a building


Any public asset building must comply with the planning guidelines and it must also fit comfortably within the development.

Option 1 - an Auditorium

In the developer's 1996 competition scheme, the principle assets were open space and an auditorium. The design of the auditorium was very imaginative, and its construction would have demanded advanced engineering and building skills. It would have been a valuable facility for the Arts community of the Borough.

The lottery bid failed, and the scheme ultimately became viewed as unworkable for three reasons:

  • Without lottery money, the site would have required massive overdevelopment in order to fund the costly building
  • The business case was unconvincing: a programme of events could be identified, but they were insufficient to generate the required level of funding
  • The design of the building was such that, in the view of many, it would have been unfit for the purpose.

Option 2 - a Discovery Centre

The case for a Discovery Centre was examined by Roger Tym & Partners on behalf of LBRuT.

They reported that Discovery Centres had originated in the USA where they had grown from a desire to revolutionise children's museums, to make them less repositories of information and more places to stimulate the imagination and to encourage learning through experience. Since the early experiments in Boston in the mid 1960's the concept has taken off in a major way. Discovery Centres now bear no resemblance to traditional museums.

They have now been introduced to the UK and are rapidly gaining in popularity, and they have received enthusiastic support from government, funding bodies, and their local communities. Though the main focus is education and information, the general feeling is that they're fun places that appeal to adults as well as children.

The Tym report concluded that Twickenham riverside was a desirable site for Discovery Centre with a river theme and that the time was right to do so. There is no such centre in the UK, so Twickenham has the opportunity to create a "first": a Riverside/Heritage Centre with national appeal capable of attracting 40,000 visitors a year.

However their financial analysis left many people feeling that the viability of a large dedicated Discovery Centre was questionable and the start up costs were so large that they could not be generated by the development. Some of the arguments used against the auditorium are applicable to such a Discovery Centre.

The Tym report contains a lot of information, and a considered analysis of their findings suggests that a different approach would be more fruitful for Twickenham; that is, to create a smaller, viable Centre with strong local appeal with riverside and arts themes.

The development of Discovery Centres in the UK is facilitated by the Kids' Clubs Network, organised by Alison Coles, and primarily funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation, with substantial support from government departments and major agencies. We are members of the Network, which organises frequent meetings that address the practicalities of running Discovery Centres, e.g. financial planning, fundraising, display planning, staffing issues.

The concept and practicalities of such a Centre form the core of this report.

Option 3 - Multi-functional open space

There is strong public support for open space within the development. This may take several forms, but two that have been identified are an avenue linking the pool site with King St, and a piazza at the corner of Water Lane and The Embankment. The piazza would be used as a place for occasional markets, a venue for outside performances, and a viewing point for strollers and all those having an outing down by the river.


[Contents Page]

[Previous Section]

[Next Section]