Eel Pie Islanders fear side-lining over riverside development

Eel Pie Islanders fear their concerns over the Twickenham riverside development have been side-lined, as deadlines for planning application responses close today.

The development aims to pedestrianise the riverside, creating housing, public spaces, and commercial venues.

But residents of the island are concerned that the development could impact their parking space, alter access for essential large vehicles, and remove green space.

Head of the Eel Pie Island Association Helen Montgomery-Smith, 55, said: “On paper, it might look like it works, but in reality, we are struggling to see that it will.

“We are not convinced that the proposal is safe for the other users of the embankment.”

Helen Montgomery-Smith in Eel Pie Island Boat Yard
SIDE-LINED: Helen Montgomery-Smith fears for her boat yard.

Montgomery-Smith, who is also director of Eel Pie Boatyard, feared large vehicles maneuvering in the changed layout could be dangerous.

James Chard, Liberal Democrat councillor for Twickenham Riverside, denied this, saying the plans included a “significant or sufficient delivery and servicing area”.

He said: “I understand why people feel a little frustrated about changes making parking a bit more inconvenient for them, but there is sufficient parking reasonably nearby.

“At present, we’ve got a fairly significant car parking area on the most beautiful bit of the river. Making this pedestrian space activates that area, so that people can enjoy it rather than cars.”

Car park on Twickenham riverside, from Sunshine cafe, overlooking river.
TYRE-D AND EXHAUST-ED: Residents tired of cars in “beautiful” spot.

The development received support from Twickenham residents, with 84% saying they would be more or just as likely to visit the riverside if it goes ahead.

Ruth Mayorcas, a Chiswick Safe Cycling campaigner, said she wanted the council to “stop it being a car park”.

The development has received criticism about transparency and communication – particularly because of the pandemic, although the project’s Zoom consultations hosted hundreds.

Chard said: “Whilst communication has been a bit more difficult during a pandemic I think we have actually communicated things in a sensible way. 

“You can always do more, but there comes a point where you can only engage people to the extent they want to be engaged – the information is there.”

Concerns were also raised about the development being built over Diamond Jubilee Gardens. 

Twickenham Riverside Trust, who hold the gardens in a 125 year lease, have been offered an alternative site, but will face a compulsory purchase order if they decline.

Twickenham Riverside Redevelopment Plan
NEXT STEP: The new development will remove carpark and Diamond Jubilee Gardens. Credit: Richmond Council.

Chard said: “The Twickenham Riverside Trust have been given a very, very generous offer for the replacement land which enlarges and improves their site I would bite the council’s hand off for, if I were them.

“And if they don’t decide to accept it, it’s happening anyway, because people across my area, across Twickenham, want it to happen.”

Montgomery-Smith felt the Island was side-lined for Twickenham residents and politics.

“I think there’s a political desire to see this site built and finished and done. But not a political desire to just hang on, make sure we get it right.

“People have got bored of Eel Pie Island, and I think it’s being perceived as NIMBYs in the whole process.”

NIMBY is a derogatory term for problem neighbours, standing for “Not In My Backyard.”

Eel Pie Island boat yards from Twickenham bank.
ANOTHER WORLD: The island feels ignored in development drama.

The Riverside Action Group – an organisation campaigning for a Twickenham riverside solution since 2015 – also suggested that the proposal had been rushed through.

In their September newsletter, they said: “We are very aware that many Twickenham residents – including us at RAG – have been waiting a long time for the derelict site on the Riverside to be dealt with and may now be impatient just to ‘get it done’. But, that can produce the wrong outcome.”

However, Chard said: “I don’t feel that we’re binding our successors. And to be honest, if the next election is a question of ‘Do you want to get this project done?’, I’m completely comfortable running on that basis because the spit is two thirds to a third, and a good issue for us.”

Featured image credit: Richmond Council

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