Sunday, 13 February 2011

Building a bridge over The River Thames (Part 1)

My biggest challenge to date:
As our society grows connections are made that alter physical, cultural and economic landscapes. Sometimes change is imperceptible, slow and frustrating, alternatively it may be rapid, enforced and unwanted. For many it is the process of consultation and how the ideas are presented and developed which makes the difference between acceptance and rejection.

I have teamed up with 
Richard, an architect from Ham, to propose a new pedestrian and twin lane cycle bridge over the River Thames. This is a personal exercise resulting in some fabulous open debate and some very interesting personal introductions.

The opportunity came about because a personal friend of mine was recently voted in as a Councillor in the Richmond-Upon-Thames area, with responsibility for the river and its immediate surrounding areas. So when the Council decided to host a public meeting in July, to give local people the opportunity to shape the future of Twickenham, he encouraged me to share some ideas.

The event was known as the 'Barefoot Consultation' and lasted several days. The aim was to reinvent the process of ideas generation and community consultation and in so doing gathered together individuals and collectives with their initiatives and ideas for the borough (as well as allowing expression to those with concerns over the future of our built environment). The event sought to challenge preconceptions offering a range of possibilities and a platform to communicate them to a wider audience. Although focused on Twickenham, many of the exhibitors such as the River Thames Society had close links to Ham too.

Richard and I had been pondering over the crossing for some time and this event in July proved the ideal moment for us to exhibit a proposal that is now slowly gathering momentum.

Not a new idea...
Over the years there have been many crossing proposals at various locations between Teddington and Richmond. A scheme via Eel Pie Island was also presented at the consultation and many residents with long memories will recall the road connection discussed in the 1960's and 70's across Teddington Lock which would have linked the then proposed expansion of the Wates Estate which never saw reality.

Many schemes have been variously considered and many quickly abandoned. What we hope is that our Ham Lands to Radnor Gardens link has a semblance of possibility. The recent shift in the perception of the Thames as a conduit for transport and the bicycle as a real alternative to road and rail travel points towards a real need, one which received generally positive comment, but also concerns from many worried about the impact on both sides of the Thames and the impact on existing places and spaces.

The current river crossing at Teddington Lock is becoming inadequate and the distance between Richmond Bridge and the Lock is simply too great for many in the community. There is no doubt that The Radnor Bridge will support the desired regeneration of Twickenham. In deed it will assist the economic and social development of societies on both sides of the river, integrating two cultures and uniting two parts of Richmond Council in the process. 
Located near the Pope's Grotto, Radnor Gardens is one of those beautiful spots in Twickenham that most people simply drive past without giving it proper attention. The Radnor Bridge will therefore help improve awareness and enjoyment of the park-lands on both sides of the river while having a significant impact on how Ham is reached by many currently faced with limited option in terms of transport and communication.

The Radnor Bridge will provide a single span crossing with clearance height for modern leisure craft and will support the current expansion of cycling as a major alternative means of transport within the capital. The objective is to provide a bridge, which will give both a safe segregated disabled compliant pedestrian route and a two-lane provision for substantial cycle capacity for commuters and leisure cyclists alike. In addition it will enable many families with school age children to gain safe cycle access between the two parts of the borough.

Despite these "tightening our belt" times, The Radnor Bridge will prove its value to both Ham and Twickenham as being far greater than the cost to build it. Richard and I are also convinced this is the right location for such a bridge because;

  • It will provide the perfect round walk, offering the densely populated Strawberry Hill area with access to what has been described as "one of the most significant and extensive stretches of riverside historic landscape and public amenity open space of any city in the world" (Kim Wilkie Report, 2005), which happens to be only 50 meters away on the other side of the river.

  • It will serve to open up more of Twickenham to the river, taking emphasis away from the heated debate about the town centre, encouraging greater interest and access to other parts of the town.

  • It will increase use of the much loved Hammerton ferry crossing (accessed from Marble Hill Gardens) not put it out of business, as many have feared a bridge between Twickenham and Ham would do.

  • It will support the 1.3 million people who annually enjoy walking along the river trail, by connecting Ham House to Strawberry Hill House. Boosting local tourism and making this a very pleasant day's excursion.

  • I have lived in Twickenham since 1970 and commented in the press in July
    "…it is hard to believe there has never been a bridge here before. It is the most perfect position to cross the river and will open up both communities".

    Richard, an architect based in Richmond, has lived in Ham since 1980. We have worked together on Design Council initiatives and he is also involved in a number of Richmond/Ham developments and therefore has a good understanding of the landscaping strategy for the Ham side of the river. In July Richard was quoted in the press as saying
    "This particular river crossing will make a natural progression of landscape and urban designs long planned for this part of London, making it a very exciting project and one that must surely be built".

    Saturday 30th October was the council-organised Twickenham Conference, which took place at Twickenham Rugby Stadium. This presented an opportunity to discuss all the proposals from different local interest groups, on ways regenerate Twickenham.

    The idea for Radnor Bridge was first put forward at the Barefoot Consultation held at York House in July 2010.

    This blog was first posted on a social networking site called Ecademy, where there are several comments worth a read. We are hoping further comments and feedback can now be gathered here. If you would like to join our mailing list too please do say. We are looking for support to help make Radnor Bridge a reality.

    Please do register your interest and wish us luck with getting this initiative through.


    1. Well done Mark - Keep up the good work, the Lester's are very proud of you! x

    2. This is a great start, Mark. This bridge could be the missing link this part of Greater London needs: a great leisure and practical resource. I agree that Hammerton's Ferry would benefit as the bridge would form a circuit with the ferry route and encourage greater use of the ferry. Keep up the good work!

      1. Thank you for this support... we're still pushing the idea and we have a Facebook page too. Please do 'Like' it so you can feel part of our growing community of interest and keep up with the most recent conversations ;-)