5. THE COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
5.1 The Hotel
5. THE COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
There is local recognition that there must be some commercial element in order to fund the development of the pool site. The site is not a large one, and there is concern about the size, density, and the nature of the proposed development, and that it is in keeping with the riverside area.
In June, the Working Group noted that the options that matched best with increased riverside usage included:
5.1 The Hotel
The earlier draft of this report suggested that a small three-star hotel could be built on the site, to support tourism as an alternative to flats, pubs and restaurants. With 40-50 rooms for business and family use, it could also offer facilities to the public, including a dining room and coffee shop overlooking the piazza, conference space, possibly a health club, and a roof-top bar.
The idea had considerable support among local people, and the shortage of hotel rooms is recognised as a handicap to effective growth of tourism in this part of the borough. Donaldson's, the Council's financial consultants, advise that a hotel on the site would not be viable, for several reasons:
a. The area is too small to accommodate a hotel of sufficient size. b. The severe problems of access and parking would curtail the interest of major hotel chains who might be willing to look at other places in the area, e.g. the sorting office site in the London Road. c. Hotels offer a low economic return relative to the space required, similar to health and fitness centres and cinemas.
Although there is intense commercial pressure to build flats on a prime riverside site, the feeling in the local community is that the swimming pool site is first and foremost a leisure facility for public use, and not for housing.
If there has to be some housing development within the site in order to pay for the public asset buildings, it should be at the corner of Wharf Lane and the service road, without underground facilities and the consequent expense of building them. The building should be in keeping with the surroundings, in terms of roof lines, levels and massing, and the way it uses the site. Good examples locally are the houses in Water Lane and the flats around the Flood Lane car park. Bad examples are the developments on the skating rink site and Toughs boatyard.
As stated earlier in this report, under Riverside Strategic Issues, item 2, roughly 10% of the shops in Twickenham are empty or have become low rental charity shops. Though the developers stated intention has been to attract magnet shops like GAP and Rymans, Twickenham is already well served by three major shopping areas, Kingston, Hounslow and Richmond, which have adequate parking, and a wide variety to offer.
Retail operations are so marginal that it is unlikely that major chains will want to come to a riverside development which has the twin drawbacks of limited parking and no footfall (passing trade) from King Street.
The provisions of the UDP not to have retail on the site should be followed for the majority of the pool development. Those shops that are permitted should be located around the Market Square, where they will benefit from the access of the King Street link and the vitality of the market area.
The idea of having a cinema in the centre of Twickenham is popular, though there is doubt whether the necessarily inward facing nature of the building would the best use of the riverside and river views.
There are several constraints on cinemas:
a. In order to be viable a cinema needs to have three screens, to produce the best mix of programming. These need not be huge, or a multiplex: one auditorium would need 150 seats, and the other two around 100 each, totalling 350. The fit-out costs make two screens unfeasible, and a single screen would require heavy and continuous subsidy (or enormous and dedicated community involvement). b. The minimum ceiling height required is 9 metres, approximately 3 storeys. This could be adjacent to or part of the Eel Pie Centre, but it would require a great deal of forethought and planning. It could also be built into the slope at the King Street side of the site. c. Cinema operators are wary of the lack of parking in the immediate area, and though they are encouraged by the lack of facilities from St Margarets as far west as Kingston. d. They are also worried about the lack of footfall presence in the high street which would occur with a riverside cinema: a person driving or walking along King Street or the Heath Road would be unaware of its existence.
There is strong local antipathy to more restaurants in Twickenham. The May survey showed that there were 48 in the town centre (the area bounded by the dip under the railway near the Green, the railway station, Oak Lane and the river). It is a volatile section of the retail trade and there is a constant changing of ownership, all too frequently resulting in demotion to fast food outlets.
Although many people would welcome the café in the Eel Pie Centre and one riverside restaurant, there are concerns about problems with all restaurants on the site.
The downgrading of Richmond riverside at night has occurred partly because the quality restaurants originally on the site have changed use to bars which draw the 18-25 age group. The current problems with rowdyness in Twickenham town centre late at night and the congestion in pubs and bars on rugby match days give rise to local concern that the same could happen on the Twickenham river front.
5.6 The health and fitness club
It remains to be established whether the health club provided in the developers proposals will be run by the Richmond upon Thames Leisure Services Department for general public use, or if it is intended to be exclusive for residents of the flats.
Guarantees have been given that the gym and judo club will be preserved when Queens Hall is renovated, and there is question whether more health clubs are needed in the area.