INQUIRY INTO THE COUNCIL'S SHORT-TERM SCHEME FOR TWICKENHAM RIVERSIDE|
NOTES ON INQUIRY PROCEEDINGS, 11-13 Feb 2004
The Inquiry began on Wednesday 11 February. It soon became apparent that more time would be required than the three days that were scheduled. There was an initial hiccup because the Inspector, Mr Paul Griffiths, had not received from the Planning Inspectorate the background and briefing documents submitted by the Council and the groups granted Rule 6 status - the Twickenham Riverside Terrace Group (TRTG), Mr Clive Wren, and the Twickenham Society Group (TSG).
Copies of the relevant documents were provided - a hefty stack - and the Inspector said he would endeavour to read them in time for the next day. In the meantime, it was agreed that the first day would be devoted to opening statements of case, and any presentations by third parties. A visit inside the Pool site was arranged for the afternoon, with the Inspector, Clive Wren, and a member of the TRTG and the TSG. The Inspector had already done a walk round the area the night before.
Briefly, the cases are: the Council is seeking to proceed with the short-term development as an interim stage while the long term development and the Twickenham Challenge are being sorted out. The Twickenham Society Group broadly supports the Council's aim, with reservations. The TRTG (Terrace Group) opposes it and advocates their own scheme, which already has planning permission. Clive Wren wants to retain the pool building and refurbish it.
Proceedings started in earnest on Thursday 12 February. At this stage the Council was represented by James Maurici from their barristers, who cross-examines all witnesses on their statements.
Clive Wren began. He's an architect who lives on the river at Hammersmith, and he initially became involved with the poolsite when he joined the Terrace Group after the death of Ken Hathaway. Their paths have since diverged on the short term issues.
(Please note the strong area of common ground among the community groups. Our over-riding concern is for the long-term development of the pool site, and retaining as much of it as possible for public use, although opinions diverge sharply over the short-term situation.)
Clive wants to keep the Pool building, refurbish it, and use it for several purposes: retail, river-related activities and community use on the ground floor, and a restaurant and guest house or rental accommodation on the first. His thesis is that the building IS sound and it will be much cheaper to refurbish and restore it than to build anew when the Council establishes its long term scheme. He believes that it's a significant Art Deco building of the 1930s, though the Marks & Spencer Inquiry Inspector did not feel so, and the Inspector from the projected UDP also concluded that the pool building was not worth retaining.
(The UDP Inspector's conclusions are very important to this whole case, though it has emerged that the Council doesn't have to adopt all of them, and there's a lengthy process still to go through before they become adopted. However, Councillor Arbour, the Council leader, has welcomed them.)
Clive maintains that the building and the upstream end of the Embankment are run-down through deliberate neglect, and restoring it to use will remove the current blight. He has a potential investor who is willing to participate for less than normal developer profit, so the building would be self-financing. He has also produced a projected scheme to redevelop the back of King St to provide the enabling development for the remainder of the pool site: retail on the ground floor and housing above. This would enable the maximum amount of open space on the site itself.
(The shops and flats on the south side - pool site side - of King Street are owned by Dawnay Day, who were involved in the last abortive attempt to over-develop the pool site. They also own the car park behind the Abbey Building Society. They do not own the building on the corner of King Street and Water Lane which contains the building society.)
Then, and during cross-examination later, Clive drew comparisons between the pool building and Thames Eyot, the large block of flats immediately upstream from the pool site. Thames Eyot was also built in the 1930s though it was begun later than the pool building; it's made of similar red brick, and it has some art deco features. (For anyone who is interested in making comparisons, the best vantage point to see both buildings is from the highest point on the bridge to Eel Pie Island.)
The Terrace Group are represented by Martin Stearman, Ron Chappell, and John Perry. Martin Stearman is an architect; Ron Chappell is a structural engineer; and John Perry is a retired lawyer. Their case is that their scheme, which already has planning permission, will use the whole site, so it won't continue to be left derelict. It has some small commercial development and it is also short-term, possibly up to five years, after which it can be handed over to the Council when they're ready to go ahead with the long term development. They object to the smallness of the Council's short-term scheme and its design limitations. The Terrace Group been talking to Dawnay Day about possible enabling development using the back of King Street, though no definite conclusion has been reached.
They are continuing to take great exception to the Council's dismissal of their economic case, which they have never had the opportunity to discuss or clarify with the Council's advisors (Dearle & Henderson, who are also responsible for the production of the designs of the current short-term site.) The Terrace Group maintains that their plans for the whole site will cost about the same as the Council's scheme, which occupies about a fifth of it (.128 of a hectare: the site is .6 hectare).
This is all quite complex, and it took an incredible amount of time.
There were issues with the way James Maurici for the Council was conducting the cross-examination of witnesses. Many in the public side agreed with Martin Stearman when, at the start of his cross-examination on Friday morning (13 Feb), he raised a point of etiquette with the Inspector about whether the overbearing manner that had been exhibited to Clive Wren and himself the day before was customary in planning inquiries. Though the inspector said that it was not unusual, and he agreed with Mr Maurici that he would have intervened had he felt the questioning was out of line, Mr Maurici did subsequently modify his tone somewhat, which made the final day more comfortable for everyone.
Ron Chappell continued the defence of the Terrace Group's attempts to have their scheme used. And there are other issues: the Terrace Group applied for listed status on the Pool building, although their scheme calls for demolition of the first floor; and there has been much correspondence that the Council's counsel regards as repeated attempts to block the short-term scheme; and their complaint to the District Ombudsman that their case had not been fairly treated by the Council. (Rejected.)
Then came John Perry, a retired solicitor who was born in the borough in 1930 and has lived in the area for much of his life. He spoke brilliantly, on the nature of the public trust under which the pool was built, the facilities for young people in Twickenham when he was young in the 1930s - skating rink, swimming pool, music at the Eel Pie Hotel - compared with now. He blamed the current state of the Embankment on Council incompetence and cowardice, an attitude of holding the public to ransom, and deliberately allowing the site to run down to create a complete area of neglect.
He reminded the participants, as Martin Stearman had, that Council Leader Tony Arbour had made a widely-reported election promise to landscape the pool site and restore it to public as a Jubilee Gardens. The consensus on the public side of the chamber was that had that pledge had been upheld, we would not have been there, and a great deal of time and money would have been saved.
John asked the Inspector to give serious consideration to the UDP Inquiry Inspector's conclusions. Of particular importance are the public toilets, which should never have been closed - he said the UDP Inquiry Inspector should have stipulated that they should be re-opened within 21 days, though the Inspector had no statutory right to do so. On rugby days, with huge numbers of rugby fans using the pubs in the town centre, the stress on the local area is enormous.
John also reinforced the importance of the "immutable" public open space specified in the UDP Inquiry Inspector's conclusions.
Several themes recur constantly from the Twickenham Society Group and the Terrace Group. We are all extremely concerned that the Council has given no indication of having a plan for the long-term scheme for the pool site: no outline, no stage breakdown, no goals or stipulation of what elements they expect to put onto the site, and in what proportion. Speakers came back, again and again, to how difficult it is to consider the short-term plan without knowing the context of the long-term planning.
There are also issues relating to granting consent to demolish a building in a conservation area without clear indication of exactly what will ultimately replace it. That is one of the key points of Clive Wren and the Terrace Group's support for this inquiry.
Another major concern is the possible sell-off of the area at the foot of Water Lane where the now empty toilets are located. The strip of land down Water Lane is the most desirable on the site, and the toilets are in a prime location, abutting the parking lot behind the Abbey Building Society - that parking lot already owned by Dawnay Day, and not by the Council.
The Twickenham Society Group spoke after lunch. Judith Lovelace had already introduced the TSG is an umbrella group of local community organisations who are dedicated to preserving the pool site for public use. She made clear that the Group does not want this inquiry. In general we welcome the short-term scheme - with reservations - as a step towards resolving the situation with the pool site. She indicated the Group's agreement and sympathy for the frustrations of Clive Wren, Martin Stearman, Ron Chappell and John Perry about the absence of long term commitments, framework, pledges, and vision. It is one thing applauding Councillor Arbour's pledge regarding Jubilee Gardens, but it is another that two years have already passed of this Administration's tenure - they have only two more years to go. What can we rely on?
Architect Derek Plummer spoke on the design aspects of the short-term scheme, Bill Double addressed the Conservation Area issues, and John Bell looked at whether the proposed development would prejudice proposals for the redevelopment of the pool site as a whole. Adam Brand brought up the long term issues relating to the site as a whole (including the derelict toilets), and Yvonne Hewett on the short-term scheme's adherence to the UDP and the emerging UDP.
There were several third party contributors, who don't belong to any group. Ian Tyson, who lives on Eel Pie Island directly opposite the site, spoke about the problems he has with the anti-social behaviour of vagrants who inhabit the extreme upstream end of the Embankment. Ian is very concerned about public order and proper policing. He spoke briefly on Wednesday and again Friday afternoon, endorsing the short-term scheme but making the point that it will need to be constantly policed.
Robin Walters talked eloquently about the long-term scheme and the possibility of the desecration of the riverside for the sake of planning gain, and the need to be vigilant.
Howard Vie spoke in favour of Clive Wren's submission.
Maureen Payan submitted a letter on behalf of HANDS, the community support charity which is the sole tenant of the pool site. She asked the charity's needs be taken into account in any deliberations on the future of the site.
A group of students from Richmond on Thames College attended, and one of their number, Nadia Hanafi, made a plea for a skateboard park in the short-term scheme, in addition to the playground.
Proceedings have adjourned until Friday 20 February at 10.00, when there will be submissions from Dr Edis for the Council on the impact of the short-term development on the Conservation Area, and Mr Fearon-Brown from Dearle & Henderson about the structural details.
The following Thursday, 26 Feb, will be Paul Freer, from the Council's planning department, and Tom McKevitt. The final day, Friday 27 Feb will be for conclusions and summings-up.
(n.b. this report is drawn from the notes made by members of the Twickenham Society Group during the Inquiry, and we are responsible for any errors or omissions.)
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