INQUIRY PROCEEDINGS, 26 Feb 2004|
Mr Tom McKevitt, for the Council
Questioned by Counsel, Mr Maurici, as to why there should be a short-term scheme, Tom McKevitt explained that the Council wants a carefully balanced solution for this long-troubled site and there has to be much detailed work to explore viability for its development and these activities take time. Only part of the site is being developed in the short-term to remove the 'negative attitude' which the Wharf Lane end of the Embankment suffers. These proposals are a balance between removing the blight and not prejudicing a long-term scheme.
He added that the Council had considered retaining and refurbishing the existing pool building but had concluded that the risks would be very high and dangerous: there is a total paucity of viability in retaining it. No-one [until this Inquiry], including English Heritage and the Thames Landscape Strategy, has ever suggested that the building was worthy of retention, either as a building or for its detailing. He added that he believed that the Council was being prudent and was acting in the Public Interest in wanting its demolition.
Mr McKevitt continued that, should the Inspector not give permission for this scheme, the road to re-development of the site would be very rocky and there would be zero prospect for another short-term scheme. But there are developers interested in working with the Council on this site and if the Inspector were to grant permission for the short-term, the Council will be taking a really positive step to get on with the long-term scheme.
Mr Maurici asked what the latest position was with regard to providing public lavatories and/or a café in this scheme. Mr McKevitt stated that this scheme brings considerable benefit to the area and the Council did not want 'heavy-weight' proposals to prejudice the long-term. He agreed that a re-locatable ['recyclable'] café building with lavatories was a way of capitalising on the scheme and could make it better. There are operators who could be found to run it.
Mr McKevitt disagreed that the Council had failed to consult with the Public and that people misunderstand the consultation process. The Council had advertised widely for ideas since 2002 and no-one was excluded from this process. Responses had been mutually exclusive and impossible to put together comprehensively but the Council is taking elements and trying to put them into the scheme, including those from the River Use Working Party, River Centre Working Party and Re-think on the Riverside. The Council's objective, he said, was to solve this problem [of re-developing the swimming pool site] even at Inquiries or in Court.
Mr McKevitt denied as untenable and totally absurd the suggestion that the poolsite had suffered by a deliberate Council policy of neglect. 'Neglect means intent; it is more the law of unintended consequence'. The reality was that the Council had looked into options which, he accepted, had failed but were carried out in good faith at the time.
It was suggested that the re-development timetable was already lagging. Mr McKevitt said that the long-term scheme can only be implemented if all goes smoothly including the planning process, the regulatory approvals, the calls-in, the preparation of specification and tender documents and the archaeological impact. The intellectual test was whether the Council is doing the right thing.
Mr McKevitt did not see as feasible Mr Wren's suggestion that there could be an enabling development by Dawnay Day to build on the back of their King Street properties and their Water Lane car park. 'We [the Council] understand enabling development' he said. The only way to develop this site is to have some enabling development on it. Mr McKevitt was very critical of Mr Wren's suggestion that the pool building could be refurbished for low-cost community use. Mr Wren, he said, is appealing for pity and uses prejudicial language. His position is based on fallacy, the fallacy of exclusion ie: the way he presents his case in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Mr McKevitt was also critical of Mr Wren's witness (Mr Sarhage, admitted as such by the Inspector at the end of the day). The pool building is not beautiful and his appraisal of it made no sense. Mr McKevitt argued that the community would object strongly to his costings, particularly of site acquisition. That these costings were based on Donaldson's model bore little or no resemblance to reality. The Council seeks to act competently and wisely, he said and added that even if it could be done it would ruin the conservation area.
Mr McKevitt summed up on his own behalf:
He could in no way recommend the Council to retain / refurbish the pool building in the weight of decades of advice and opinion that the building should not be retained. He could not see any developer retaining the building for a viable scheme: indeed, none had ever done so.
The Council want to re-educate the community about this site so that the 'anti-socials' are no longer tolerated there. The probability of self-policing will increase with a better environment.
He was concerned by the disparaging comments about the Council's chosen designers for this scheme. He was happy with Dearle and Henderson, a multi-disciplinary firm, as this is the way the profession [industry] is going.
Mr McKevitt, responding to cross-examination by Clive Wren:
The Council should not take financial risks, therefore the site's development can only go ahead as an enabling / joint venture scheme.
He is not aware of the Council making any surveys of the site over the last 23 years.
He is not aware of any attempts to re-use the site. No-one in the Council could have envisaged that any kind of redevelopment of the site would have taken more than twenty years to achieve.
He would have to look at the implication of the decision should the Inspector grant permission for the playground but not for the demolition of the building. Mr Wren argued that the costs saved by not demolishing the building could be put into its refurbishment.
The pool building doesn't lend itself to adaptation because it is purpose-built with high volume and low area. Donaldson's report that the retention of the building would seriously prejudice any long-term scheme. The ground floor suffers from lack of light, it is below grade and prone to flooding: it has no commercial use potential. Mr McKevitt's advice to Council has to be on the ease with which the building could be converted.
Based on expert advice, the Council has no intention of retaining the building. If the Council is incorrect in this assessment, then so must many other professionals and bodies be incorrect also.
The Inspector intervened stating that the principle in Conservation Area Consent for demolition in PPG15 is the same whether or not there is a wish to demolish and that if the building did make a positive contribution, this would affect the value of the land and the (Donaldson's) financial model for the redevelopment.
The building has not been listed.
A 3D view has to be taken on this site, not just the financial models but the view of the people: that no-one up to now has wanted the building's retention.
From 2002 the Council suddenly has support from the Community for this site and up till now things were going smoothly on that basis. We are now faced with a proposal (by Mr Wren's witness, Mr Sarhage) not supported by evidence, operators or financial backers.
The difficulty is balancing a scheme with planning permission with its viability. One puts in place a process which 'digs deep' to come up with 'pitfalls' in order to achieve success. The Inspector intervened by asking whether this was predicated by financial viability? Mr McKevitt replied that 'we have indicative appraisal material which gives us indications that the scheme will succeed'. The issue is the choice for the Council which maximises value or minimises value. This is based on very detailed information supplied by Mr McKevitt in trying to 'educate' Cabinet.
Mr McKevitt responding to Ron Chappell, Twickenham Riverside Terrace Group (TRTG):
He does not know today's costs of the short-term scheme. The capital cost would be over £500k and would continue to increase by other factors, such as this Inquiry.
The short-term scheme may well last for more than five years, but believed it to be achievable.Mr McKevitt is not pursuing or talking with developers. The Council has no intention of selling off any or part of the T1 site.
A new chapter had opened with regard to the Riverside. There will be consultation through the Cabinet process. Everything will be recorded in the Public Domain. Mr Chappell commented that this consultation process was not evidenced by the digital pictures produced by Mr Fearon Brown only during the course of this Inquiry. Mr Griffiths (the Inspector) commented that the appearance of the proposals was of 'paramount' importance.
Mr McKevitt confirmed that the Cabinet was seeking Public Open Space (POS) on the site to which Mr Chappell replied that by physically constraining the site with buildings, POS is lost or, at best, reduced.
Mr McKevitt re-iterated that 'we [the Council] are not going to allow the short-term scheme to prejudice the long-term'. In the long-term the site would include the Twickenham Challenge, housing (including an affordable element), enabling development, a market square, POS and an architectural feature (such as a fountain).
Asked what the Council's 'overriding objective for the redevelopment of the site' was (Proof of Evidence para 8.17), Mr McKevitt replied: 'success'.
Mr McKevitt responding to Judith Lovelace, Twickenham Society Group (TSG):
He agreed to disagree (on a point of clarification) that there was more public support for a Discovery Centre than a cinema during the 2000 - 2001 consultation process (proof of Evidence paras 3.32 & 3.54).
Asked whether the café and lavatories would be locked at night, McKevitt replied that he saw the café as a 'destination', possibly opening at night.
HANDS 'has some time to go' and would not be relocated yet. There was a case for clearing up the rest of the site, if only on the grounds of safety.
A revised timetable for the short-term scheme depended on this Inquiry Report and responses to it.
Robin Walters (Strawberry Hill Residents Association) put the following to Mr McKevitt:
As the Twickenham Society spokesman against the cinema option, he, Robin Walters, could confirm that the British Film Institute did not support a cinema either. The Council wanted one and that was that and Mr McKevitt is aware of that. Councillor Carthew was at the time heavily in favour but subsequently proved wrong.
Mr McKevitt admitted that he had a unique position in the Council in that he reported both to the Chief Executive and Council Leader.
He confirmed that the result of the Twickenham Challenge would be a Cabinet decision.
There are other factors, besides this Inquiry, which have led to the delay in implementing the short-term scheme.
Mr McKevitt disagreed that developers like the site (to make money). He said that the more developers were educated about the site, the less interest they have in it.
Mr McKevitt agreed that the poolsite is adjacent to, but not part of, the Thames Policy Area.
Mr Walters was concerned that appointment of the multi-practice firm, Dearle and Henderson, which had been closely associated with Dawnay Day, would act as a red rag to the community bull. Mr McKevitt replied that he had recommended Dearle and Henderson to Cabinet on the basis that they have the necessary in-house skills which the Council lack and they also have experience of the site.
Mr Maurici re-examined Mr McKevitt on the question of retaining the pool building:
Mr McKevitt was wholly in accord with Donaldson's conclusion that 'Retention of the Pool Building would represent a very serious constraint on the future development potential of the site'.
No developer including Alsop Zogolovitch had expressed an interest in the pool building.
The Council would not have secured the building even if the Donaldson financial model had come up with a viable option.
(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.)
|page last amended 27/5/11|