March 3 2006

Twickenham Challenge Appraisal
London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
Room 1.11
Civic Centre
Middlesex, TW1 3BZ

Dear Sirs:

There are three remaining worthy contenders for the Twickenham Challenge. Each contender has been offered approximately 800m² of the former swimming pool site of their own choice to come up with a scheme of community benefit which can be included in the Council's own long-term 5 year plan for the redevelopment of the whole site. The short-term scheme of the playground and café was completed last Spring. Each entry is accompanied by a business plan, costings, and architectural drawings (but, strangely, no contextual elevations) and other information to justify its case. The proposals also have to meet the criteria of the UDP (Unitary Development Plan).

The three remaining Challengers are:

  1. Bu'sen Martial Arts and Fitness Centre
  2. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Centre
  3. The Environment Trust for RUT Twickenham River Centre
  1. Bu'sen makes a robust case for seeking to enlarge its holistic martial arts and fitness centre, currently located in King Street, by creating a "mixed portfolio" (but not large) building comprising competition size Dojo (martial arts and performance area, also used for indoor bowls), larger training and fitness rooms, and refreshment area and adding a ladies only dance studio, meeting room / crèche as well as adequate changing rooms, therapy rooms and lavatories. They have chosen a site adjacent to the playground and their premises are accessible only from it. The two storey building is about 8 metres high but its area is not disclosed). Costs are projected at £2.4M. The Centre is essentially inward looking. Because of the nature of the anticipated activities, the building requires little natural light (the Dojo itself,apparently, must only be lit artificially to maintain consistent light levels) and the only spaces which will really benefit from windows are the café (overlooking the River) and the dance studio (but only at high level). There will be mechanical extract and ventilation systems on the roof for the fitness centre.
In our opinion, this scheme only addresses the health and fitness needs of the Community. The building is inappropriate for the site. It is large and bulky, not aesthetically pleasing with little or no articulation, is introspective and makes no contribution to its riverside location in a conservation area. It could be built anywhere. It is reminiscent of the Marks & Spencer proposals of 1981 and Allsop Zogolovitch cinema of 1993-4. Access is solely through the playground (which is currently locked at night); there is no obvious location for deliveries and there appears to be no out of hours supervisory facilities. There is no provision for the relocation of the very popular present café during construction. Neither the proposed café itself is adequate for community purposes nor is the undedicated crèche which has to share accommodation with a meeting room which has no provision for storage for either. Some of the financial costings are questionable.
  1. The Duke of Edinburgh Award proposals offer alternative locations for their income-generating scheme. Scheme A, like Bu'sen, is located adjacent to the childrens' playground and Scheme B, like the Environment Trust's (see below) on the site of the former pool cafeteria, manager's house (now HANDS) and the disused lavatories on Water Lane. Using the old swimming pool site boundary lines (ie before the demolition of the pool buildings), Scheme A offers a three-storey building of 2419 m² containing sports hall, cafeteria, crèche, counselling rooms, commercial kitchen, IT Training room, meeting rooms, lecture room, photographic dark room, office space and double and single bed ensuite "dormitory" accommodation on the top floor, all accessible only from the playground. Despite the size of the building complex it is proposed that it will be managed only by a "building Manager" supported (possibly) by an administrative assistant and the dormitory accommodation supervised by an assistant, all employed by the Borough. Health and Safety and security issues do not seem to have been addressed in this context.
Scheme B offers the same facilities on a slightly reduced scale on three floors of 2201m². Raised above Embankment street level it is accessible by ramp and stairs. At the most pivotal point of the whole site (Water Lane / Embankment overlooking the River) accommodation at ground floor is reception and cafeteria, at first floor an IT suite and meeting rooms and at the top floor a terrace and communal kitchen / dining area for the dormitories. The proponents of Scheme B, however, are not happy about it as "its position on the site could be less favourable in terms of build access."

We are of the opinion that both Scheme A and B, by providing such diverse and intensive accommodation, are necessarily massive in scale (probably more than a third bigger than Bu'sen), are inappropriate in land use terms for this site and are inappropriate visually and contextually for the riverside setting in a conservation area. If Bu'sen is large and bulky and not aesthetically pleasing, this proposal is more so. The scheme(s) could be built anywhere. It is discouraging, particularly in the light of public campaigns going back to before 1981 against such exploitation of this site, that buildings of this size and type are still seen as viable here. We are also concerned that the proponents have demonstrated no track record of projects of this size. Depending on which Scheme is looked at, costings vary between £4.4 - £4.8M. This money has to be recouped. Finances are based on rental of, among all the other facilities, office and conference spaces which are not fitting uses for this site.
  1. The Environment Trust River Centre proposals are located on the site occupied by the former swimming pool café, the baths manager's house (now HANDS) and the former public lavatories in Water Lane. The Trust has taken advantage of the natural slope of the site to provide a gradually stepped two-storey building with the ramped and stepped entrance at road level on the Embankment. The core services provided by the not-for-profit organisation are for education and events; volunteering and care for the built and natural environment. These are all embodied in the proposals. As a Discovery Centre, the scheme is "devoted to its purpose" and will appeal to all ages across the community. The purpose is that "by offering access and activities to people of all ages and backgrounds it will bring animation and colour to the riverside" and that it "has the potential to be a significant asset to the riverside. Its architecture will be of good quality, responsive to its site in a conservation area, and ecologically sound". The accommodation includes: a multi purpose / exhibition hall, "Jubilant" (Royal Barge) display and boathouse, boat hire, RNLI shop and display area, management offices, and relocated HANDS offices at the lower levels, exhibition space and cafeteria overlooking the Riverside at first floor level and manager's flat on two levels at first floor. The total floor area is modestly reckoned to be 1020m², the cost to be £2.7M.
The scheme meets the UDP requirements by promoting knowledge of the river and encouraging use of it including: Asian funerals (which are currently conducted on the river by Eel Pie Slipways) need a point of assembly for the mourners, a pontoon stop for river-trip boats, providing a location for the Trust's own activities and those of, say, the Thames Explorer Trust amongst all sorts of river-related activities, including those during Twickenham Festival providing an ever-changing experience of the river.

The EPIA has had along association with the concept of a Discovery Centre and was one of its earliest proponents in the popular groundswell of opinion against the excesses of the overdevelopment proposals by Allsop Zogolovitch and others who followed them. Surveys and polls over the years have shown majority support for a Centre of this type on the riverside. We fully support a proposal which is appropriate for this site in scale, design and intent and which takes full advantage of and adds to its riverside setting.

We need to be reassured about its costings, however, particularly with regard to the demolition of existing buildings and the proposal for a pontoon which, by suggestion may displace the boat moorings upstream of the Island footbridge, thereby incurring not only a loss of earnings to their owners but also a loss of facility for the boat owners themselves.

Your sincerely

William A D Double
Planning Committee
Eel Pie Island Association


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