The Editor,
The Richmond and Twickenham Times,
Second Floor,
Allied House,
29-39, London Road,
Twickenham TW1 3SZ

4th May 2009

Dear Ms Barnes,

The picture published in your paper last week may have given the impression that I was opposed to the Council's choice of development for Twickenham Riverside. In fact, I was there to greet our Mayor and her guests as they celebrated an important aspect of Twickenham's history. I regret that some felt their cause would be advanced by spoiling the event with an inappropriate demonstration. It was unfortunate that no one from the paper took the trouble to ascertain my views. However, this presumably inadvertent misrepresentation gives me the opportunity to clarify my position.

Anyone who listened to my comments to Cabinet on the following Monday evening cannot doubt that I have tried to maintain a sense of proportion throughout this latest phase of the Pool site saga.

Few can be enthusiastic about the amount of housing needed to finance the River Centre. And I can readily understand those who feel another opportunity has been lost. But an unrealistic aspiration without feasible foundation is not a genuine opportunity: it is a pipe dream.

I know that the Council's determination to achieve a lasting public benefit has alienated many and the administration's enthusiasm has been seen as unsympathetic to those who have a different vision. Some residents do not have a detailed knowledge of the site and its history and so their indignation may be understandable. The failure of opponents to engage in the process at an early stage cannot now be compensated for by a display of passion. Passion is a poor guide to practicality. Where were the objectors when the T1 Planning Brief, the Twickenham Challenge, and later the Development Brief were being drawn up? Deeply held convictions seem to have slumbered whilst important decisions were being openly discussed. Late-comers to a banquet should have little expectation of discussing the menu.

I grant not everybody sat on their hands; a number of caring, thoughtful, well-meaning individuals have struggled to give voice to alternative approaches, but of practical, constructive leadership and coherent vision, there was little sign. Latterly, louder, more vehement voices have been heard, less thoughtful, less careful, and not so well-mannered.

The management of expectations has been difficult and disappointment was probably inevitable. The divisive nature of the discussion should not have come as a surprise to the administration. Consultation has been misunderstood by opponents and proponents alike. Although the administration's consultative processes do not yet fully encompass the four distinct stages of consultation, the process has not been so flawed as to be improper in a representative democracy.

Undoubtedly the arguments will continue, but I appeal to both enthusiasts and detractors to moderate their tone so that the next important stages of refinement and detailed planning determination can be conducted thoughtfully, without the partisan abuse which has characterised the latest attempts to make progress on this key site.

We now have in the River Centre a chance to obtain a notable public amenity. This gain must, of course, be weighed against the notional benefits of doing nothing immediately in the expectation that one of the multiplicity of conflicting alternatives might become feasible at a later stage.

For some this is not an easy choice, and I respect their quandary. So, unless in all conscience you can face another generation of neglect and disregard of this valued site, let us now unite in good faith to obtain the best we can from the proposals.

It is important that any scheme attracts support. This does not have to be given uncritically, but critics should be realistic enough to recognise that defeating the current scheme risks a further prolonged period of neglect on this site. The time for party posturing has now passed.

None should pretend that this scheme is the answer to all Twickenham's ills, but it will be an improvement and will make a significant contribution to our town.

Yours sincerely,

John Bell

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