The Public Consultations

This article by Jack Betteridge first appeared in the Riverside letters page of Twickenham Online. Prof Betteridge is a Twickenham resident, and he chaired the River Use Working Party, the River Centre Working Party, and he's a member of the Traffic and Parking Working Party.

From: Jack Betteridge
Re: The Public Consultations

Dear Sir,

What has the public said?

There have been very few contributions from Councillors to a debate that has engaged the public in lengthy and extensive discussions over the last two and a half years. The Council's position has been presented to the public by the Officers, Robert Hancock and Bill Dyke. Hence, Trevor Wittall's letters are valuable in helping to redress this imbalance. However, he errs in thinking that McCormack Jamieson & Pritchard's proposals have been the subject of a MORI poll.

There have been six occasions when the public have been consulted in a formal way about the options for the pool site. In five of these the Council has been actively involved, once with MORI and on the other four occasions in conjunction with the Twickenham Society and Eel Pie Island Association (EPIA).

They were:

1. Jan/Feb 2000, Public meetings and a survey form
A series of meetings were arranged by Bill Dyke to cover a range of local interest groups, e.g., Town Centre Management Board, Tertiary College, York House Soc., etc. The meetings started with a presentation of the practicalities of developing the site followed by a presentation of two schemes, one with a Public Building (Centre) and one that was fully commercial, which would provide a cinema and an estimated £2m to be spent elsewhere in Twickenham. The presentations, given by members of the Twickenham Society, were consistent throughout and had been agreed with Robert Hancock and Bill Dyke, who monitored each meeting.

The presentations took around 45 mins and this was followed by an hour or so's open discussion.

Everyone was presented with a survey form at the outset of the meeting. This was constructed to ascertain preferences for the commercial element, the public benefit, the overall balance of the development. The final question asked for a vote on which scheme was favoured, one of the two on offer or something different.

Overall, approximately 300 people attended the meetings and 182 survey forms were completed.

The messages with respect to balance were clear and were acted upon in the revision of the brief. However, the clear views expressed about the preferred options were not embraced with the same degree of enthusiasm. The basic findings were those in favour of: the Centre option, 44 %, open space, 21 % and the Cinema option 12 %.
Most frequently given reasons for the unpopularity of the cinema option were (a) "not right for the Riverside" and (b) " Remember the Ice Rink, we don't believe the money will be spent in an appropriate way".

Derek Plummer summed up one of the meetings by saying "The Council is trying to develop two schemes, one of which (the cinema) is unpopular and unlikely to get planning permission. The other is likely to be non-viable. It would be prudent if they were to develop an open space option which was low risk and low cost."

2. Jan/Feb 2000, MORI poll.
The Council commissioned MORI to poll 501 residents throughout the Borough.The two options which were placed before the responder were:

A. "A 3-screen Cinema showing children's films during school holidays, matinee films to appear to an older audience and main stream cinema for the general audience. There would also be up to £2m for other leisure facilities in Twickenham.

B. A discovery/heritage centre for residents of all ages providing a range of facilities including small music/dance performance space, café, shop and arts display area."

The background information about the development was conveyed in 68 words.
There was no opportunity to express a preference for a different scheme.

43% favoured the centre (option B), 38 % favoured the cinema (option A) .

It was a shoddy piece of work by MORI, and a good example of "garbage in, garbage out".

3. Dec 2000, verbal presentations by MacCormac Jamieson & Prichard (MJP) to local interest groups with survey form
The MJP team gave a series of presentations to virtually the same set of local interest groups which had met in Jan/Feb 2000. The presentations typically went on for an hour, and these were followed by open discussion. A survey form was designed to collect public opinion on the design issues. This was mainly for MJP's benefit and no formal analysis of the results was undertaken. It was agreed generally that MJP were more sympathetic to the needs of the site.

4. Jan 2001, verbal presentations to local interest groups and the general public, with show of hands
With little time for reflection on their pre Christmas survey, MJP were asked to do another set of presentations in advance of the Resource Committees meeting on 12th Feb 2001. One of these was the public meeting, which filled the Clarenden Hall. On this occasion they presented outlines of two schemes one containing a cinema and the other a Discovery Centre. Robert Hancock introduced these meetings and chaired the public meeting. He acceded to public requests for a show of hands at the end of the meeting. The level of support for MJP's proposals overall was 63% and there was a strong preference for the Discovery Centre option (72%) over the Cinema (21%). Votes for alternative schemes were not allowed and no attempt was made to distribute a structured survey form.

5. Jan 2001, poster display and survey form
There was a poster display of the two outline schemes in York House. There was a survey form, which was a minor modification of that used in DEC 2000. The suggestion from community representatives that, a voting box be added so as to enable the public to state clearly their preference for "Centre", "Cinema" or "Other, please specify", was not accepted by the Officers. Thus, another garbage in, garbage out situation was created. A serious analysis of responses to that survey is impossible, and the Officer's claim that it is the most reliable assessment of public opinion, is a sad reflection on their judgement. However, one may conclude from reading the responses that more people to the exhibition favoured the Cinema option. However, many of the concerns about the Centre option, were satisfactorily resolved by open discussion at the meetings.

A fair conclusion of the January exercises is that the public was consulted, but their opinion was not properly measured.

6. Spring 2001, The petition, was conducted independently by members of the local Labour Party. This shows a strong support for an open space option.

Throughout the presentations with which the Council was associated in 2000 and 2001, it was repeatedly asserted by the officers that the swimming pool, was of a good size and that it and the Health and Fitness Centre would be accessible to the public at affordable prices and at convenient hours. Sir David Williams spoke to the Richmond & Twickenham Times of "bringing the pool back to Twickenham". These assurances clearly carried much weight with the public.

As one who has sat through many of these consultation meetings, I doubt the matter is as clear cut as Cllr Whitall, supposes. There are many in the Borough who view the riverside as a treasured public space and they were very unhappy about what is now being proposed. The Council may later regret their refusal to explore an open space option, and their failure to measure public opinion in Jan/Feb 2001.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Betteridge
2 July 2001

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