11 Feb 2004
PINS REFS: APP/L5810/V/03/1128907 AND APP/L5810/V/03/1128908 LPA REFS: 03/1141/FUL AND 03/1142/CAC

My name is Robin Walters. I am Joint Chairman of Strawberry Hill Residents' Association. I represent SHRA on the TSG committee. We support the TSG, and the Council's application. The purpose of my speaking is to bring to everyone's attention the wider context behind this Inquiry.

In the last 20 or so years, the Council have failed to come up with a scheme for the Twickenham pool site acceptable to the community or to the Secretary of State. This state of affairs has come about to some extent as a result of a planning system that obliges local civil servants and local councillors to do their job in an environment of conflicting interests.

Local civil servants are under pressure to meet the requirements of national governments and to advise on how to achieve a balanced budget locally. Local councillors have to win elections and address the needs of the electorate as people, while also achieving a balanced budget.

The last administration chose to ignore the wishes of the electorate, and to accept the advice of their officers who saw the old pool site as an opportunity to make profit from which - they said - they would meet the costs of other needs within the Borough. In the excitement of the chase, council officers misjudged the strength of community feeling.

The community was not prepared to see the desecration of an Arcadian landscape of unparalleled beauty - for all time - or the betrayal of the history and character of their town for the sake of 'planning gain', and they expressed their displeasure by overturning the administration.

In the face of the Council's failure over the years, the community, whether represented by the TSG, TRTG or as individuals, is united in its determination that the Council shall not repeat past mistakes.

The people of Twickenham, whether represented by the TSG or the TRTG, or speaking as individuals, do not regard Twickenham riverside as an appropriate site for a commercial or housing development, nor do they consider it to be part of the town centre.

What appears to be differences within the community are not matters of principle, but of detail, reflecting attempts to prompt or guide the Council as to what would be acceptable to the community. The Council has encouraged diverse opinions - as it continues to do through the Twickenham Challenge. It suits the Council now to argue against each individual proposal and to oblige proponents to justify their suggestions, one against another.

Leading for the Council is Tom McKevitt, who is not from the Councilšs Planning Department, but from the Chief Executive's Office, and he is also Head of PFI Contracts. This gives a strong clue as to Council officers' thinking and to the way the development may be handled after this Inquiry.

Part-time councillors cannot possibly keep up with the workload heaped on them these days and must rely heavily on the advice of their officers. If we are not careful, I can see that we shall, once again, be offered a scheme that meets the needs of the officers rather than those of the community, and that the decision as to what should be done will be taken out of our hands; both councillors and community.

I hope that at the end of this costly Inquiry, we gain more than a simple judgment on a narrow issue, but something useful and helpful for the future.

<< Back to The Riverside Home Page

page last amended 28/2/04