4 January, 2002

Twickenham Riverside, Who Benefits ?

Press statements and political news sheets of the Council's ruling party on the benefits to Twickenham of the Dawnay Day development fail to answer the following question: What is the Council doing promoting the sale of public land to a preferred developer in order that they may build luxury riverside flats with their own gardens, shops, and in the basement, a privately operated Cinema and privately operated Fitness Club?

The justification given is that these buildings bring a benefit to Twickenham since they revitalise the town and provide facilities to the residents. No mention is made of the fact that they are a commercial venture and if the demand for a Cinema was so strong this element of the scheme would have been provided years ago above ground somewhere else in Twickenham. Twickenham abounds in Health and Fitness centres. The last place to build either a Health and Fitness Centre or a Cinema is by the river. Furthermore there is no shortage of vacant shops. So the main purpose and driver of the development is the luxury housing, 46 flats with their own parking and private gardens.

It has taken considerable time and effort to establish the details of the benefits claimed, for the Health and Fitness club and the Cinema, and to obtain information on them. These enquiries have been the subject of a lengthy correspondence with the Council's officers and other agencies, which is still continuing.

Benefit 1: Swimming Pool
As far as can be ascertained, the public use of the swimming pool in the basement Health and Fitness club has not been resolved. Public use is taken to mean access for all. The use is only at off-peak times. The contract with the operator of the Health and Fitness club will be subject to annual renegotiation. Entrance charges for the swimming are given as similar to Richmond's Pools in the Park. For the limited public use of the pool the Council will pay a subsidy to the operator. The cost of this subsidy, known as an "opportunity cost", is claimed to be commercially sensitive, therefore it is not divulged. Since no value for this use is given it appears that this "opportunity cost" could be equivalent to a proportion of the building cost of excavating a basement, within the Thames floodplain.

Benefit 2: Arts Cinema and Performing Space
The use of one screen of the commercially owned and operated three screen Cinema is to be as a flexible auditorium capable of being changed into a performance space, for use on certain consecutive mornings and evenings by societies and clubs. The contract will be subject to annual renegotiation. In addition the Council will pay a subsidy to the operator. The cost of this "opportunity cost" is claimed to be commercially sensitive therefore it is not divulged. Since no value for this use is given it appears that this "opportunity cost" could also be equivalent to a proportion of the building cost in a basement within the Thames floodplain. The plans for public access to this facility, at present, are that it should be done via the Council's own Arts programme. This severely limits the public use, compared with other common options, such as a programme manager directly responsible for creating a programme of activities. Moreover, use within the Council's Arts programme will be a reallocation of existing funds (with the cinema being used instead of another existing outlet, and so the net gain to the public will be zero.)

Benefit 3: Open space
The area of the open space appears to be around shops on the planning drawings, and it is noted that the private gardens of the flats are equal to or greater than the area of the public open space.

Benefit 4: Breakthrough from King Street
The new King Street entrance is a commercial requirement by the developer and is for his own benefit. After all, he wants the public to get to his shops.

Benefit 5: 19 extra parking places.
These are understood to be earmarked for the shops.

Benefit 6: Environmental improvements
To The Embankment, Water Lane and Wharf Lane. The developer's planning application notes that these improvements as not essential to the development and subject to funding being available.

Benefit 7: Pedestrianising the riverbank
Unfortunately this removes amenities for local businesses, clubs, residents and shoppers.

Benefit 8: The provision of a pontoon
The developer's planning application does not include the pontoon.

Benefit 9: Three pieces of land added to the pools site
One of these is the present toilets which it is assumed the Council already owns. The ownership of the land has been the subject of enquiries which have been blocked by the Council. Holding the freehold of 20% more land than held at present. All of these require further explanation, clarification and balancing against the disadvantages of massive over development.

Benefit 10: New public toilets
These are a replacement of the existing facility by four small, automated toilets. Two are located on the service road and two are on the Embankment in an area that floods regularly.

Benefit 11: Cash consideration
£750,000 cash in hand. (Given as up to £2 million in Jan 2000)

Benefit 12: Reimbursement of the Council's costs
Now and in the future (given as £200,000 to date).

Benefit 13: A premium for the grant of the lease Value (not given)

It is the duty of all Council members to scrutinise the scheme, examine all the benefits claimed, and ensure their implementation. Their responsibility and judgement should not be delegated to others, including paid outside experts.

Richmond upon Thames Council will be providing over three acres of prime riverside land to a developer to build a scheme whose main outward visible impact will be three stories containing 46 luxury flats with their own private gardens. They are claimed to have the appearance of upturned boats. Shops and restaurants will be above ground, parking for the flats, plus a commercially operated Fitness Centre and Cinema in the basement. This is in return for £750,000 other as yet undefined payments and limited use of these basement facilities when they are not too busy.

This site was purchased by the Council in 1924 for public walks and pleasure grounds. For the present scheme the Council prepared a development brief in consultation with local amenity societies and then ignored their recommendations. The developer revised the scheme and the Council revised the brief. The Council has refused to entertain any alternative such as the public open space, for which they have already given planning permission. The Council is refusing to realise the real value of this land for the future by making use of it as a public park and gardens, leaving the way open for alternative public use.

The existing 50m by 17m swimming pool was closed for repairs in 1981, and the Council has made no attempt to investigate alternative funding to restore and reinstate that public amenity.

They are now about to act as judge and jury on a development by the Council's preferred developer Dawnay Day Structured Finance Ltd. The land has never been out to tender on the open market and the present development has not been subject to competition, or consultation. The information on public benefit gained painstakingly to date reveals that this benefit is minimal.

It requires a change in mindset, but all would not be lost if the elected Council has the vision to see the error of its ways, and remembers that it holds this land in trust for the public. This responsibility remains with the elected members and they should heed the views of the electorate.

Ron Chappell

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