Wednesday, 24 June 2020

£20m should do it... But which to vote for?

That should do it...

As you may by now have read elsewhere; Richmond Council has put forward a £20m bid to Central Government - who are requesting shovel ready infrastructure projects to invest in. This is part of a strategy to drive the economy out of the Covid19 crisis.

The Council's bid is for a cycling and walking bridge between Twickenham and Ham. Hurrah!

...but which bridge to build?

We are obviously in direct communication on a regular basis with the key Councillors involved in this process. However, we also know from our conversations with them that (from the various bridge suggestions in the WSP report) two locations are considered most feasible and were well supported by residents too. As you may know from the WSP feasibility report released in 2018/19, the most favoured was in fact the Orleans location. We think the term "most favourable" is questionable. Mainly because the feedback sought was mostly requested from the Ham Neighbourhood, for whom this subject was front of mind at the time. People in the wider borough communities, who will benefit from an West-East journey, were not so openly consulted. However we need your support to help us confirm this thinking. Which is why we are continuing to keenly seek wider community support via social media channels.

This feedback from the The Richmond Society lets us know which of the two bridges they would like to proceed with. It was published in January 2019 following the Council's request for feedback on the WSP feasibility report. We think their response is very interesting as it accurate represents our thoughts too.

The Council's point of view.

The Council's bid is obviously still open to either of the locations being the site of the aforementioned bridge. And as a council, representing the whole borough, LBRUT feels it must continue to remain open to the prospect of either location (...that is, until they have further decisive information).

We are therefore campaigning here, to ensure that more people are aware of the difference between the two bridges in question. this is so they can help lobby the Council on this matter (in their own small way), or at least make an informed decision when asked once more to vote on this matter. We hope this will happen soon.

Two different bridge objectives.

Simply put, the two bridges in question do not serve the same purpose. That's because their locations and the relative benefits they will each bring to the community borough wide are different.
  1. The Orleans Bridge provides access for people living in Ham to 'commute' north of the river. (People in East Twickenham only really need this southerly movement for leisure pursuits, which is already aptly served by Hammerton's Ferry.)
  2. The Radnor Bridge provides a purpose built active travel solution for a far wider group of the borough who need to travel West-East. Which is why we refer to Radnor Bridge as a 'strategic link at the heart of the borough'. This includes children getting to school, business commuters as well as supporting ramblers and other leisure pursuits. Our video here shows this off well.
How has this debate come about?

In a recent communication with the Council we reiterated that we were very pleased they have taken action on this matter. They did this by taking the trouble to release the previous administration’s feasibility study into this subject - which for some strange reason had not been brought to the public's attention. [We think this feasibility study may have come about in part because we specifically asked for it during one of the Village Meet Ups - Leader’s Question Time at The Stoop - held in March 2017. There is a transcript on the link just provided.]

We know that many people have for years been keen to see a bridge across the river to connect the Borough better. Indeed the Thames Arcadian Landscape Strategy in the 1990’s almost indicates that a bridge from Ham Lands to Radnor Gardens would be appropriate.

Richard Woolf and Mark Wing (the Radnor Bridge team) originally proposed the "Radnor Bridge" at the Council’s Barefoot consultation held in Twickenham in 2010. this was an open invitation for fresh ideas from the local community. (Once we had put our idea forward, we simply couldn’t let it go.) The reason we used this event as an opportunity to put our idea forward was because The Richmond & Twickenham Times had just released an artist's impression of a bridge between Twickenham and Ham. Sadly it was a prominent and obtrusive design, to be located nearer to Marble Hill. The proposed location was in direct line of site from Richmond Hill and didn’t offer anything to the community on the Twickenham side that wasn’t already available from the ferry service. We therefore felt at the time that this was an absurd suggestion. Hence we started our campaign.

In the early days we would often 'jokingly' refer to a bridge connecting Twickenham with Ham as the #TwickNHamBridge. We then chose to deliberately name it Radnor Bridge, to help solidify our belief that this is the best location for an effective and more strategic connection in the borough; We believe that this location will connect a far broader community base and offer much needed Active Travel infrastructure at a time when the communities are growing in number and there is a eagerness to reduce car usage

As mentioned above, the alternative option to the #RadnorBridge is to be located at Orleans Gardens and for some reason their online communications to date have been using the name of "TwickNHam Bridge". See this article here for more on our perspective on this.

Now, this is important; ensuring we are 'shovel ready'.

So, back to the bid. As we said earlier, Central Government is requesting shovel ready infrastructure projects to invest in. Meaning, projects that are good to go!

In the (previously mentioned blog article above) about the WSP feasibility study and Next steps, we shared that we have been trying to encourage the Council to move to the next stage, perhaps with further input from WSP. After all, we need to find out which bridge the local community wants to see built and start to investigate any planning considerations that must to be considered. The key one that comes to mind is the subject of the biodiversity across Ham Lands and how to manage this going forward, which we wrote about here.

In response to this challenge (since the £20m bid was submitted) we received a reply from the Council to say that it is still seeing this as "...chicken and egg"; It's clear that spending funds on further work without a clear trajectory to capital is challenging. And it is also clear that bidding for capital funds without all precursors complete is challenging too.

However this response concerns us, mainly because it is once again delivers a sense of inertia.

Conversely, we have also received separate communications from other Councillors who say they are frustrated with the previous administration's lack of action on this matter;

" frustrates me a little that the Council haven't, over the past 10 or 15 years, developed a decent file of shovel ready infrastructure projects for just this eventuality. I appreciate it means spending resource on detailed plans without identifying the funding stream in advance. However, austerity was never going to last forever, and the idea of government infrastructure spending comes back into fashion eventually."

Remember, 'shovel ready' projects was a requirement of the aforementioned bid to Central Government.

The bid was submitted on the basis that "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take". And we are excited and pleased that this administration has taken such a bullish approach in their decision to take action here. But we also understand their reservations. One Councillor said;

"I am not particularly holding my breath on this application as Government are giving priority to "shovel ready" projects and that's where we may struggle."

But surely last week's fantastic decision to get the bid out, along with the above shared concerns, means now is the time to continue taking positive steps forward. In our opinion, all of this implies that perhaps the "egg" should come first.

Maybe now is the time for more quick and decisive action. Only then will we stand the chance of at least appearing to be "shovel ready" when the bid results come through.

1 comment:

  1. Having grown up in Strawberry Hill I completely understand the people's need for and business rationale supporting a Twickenham /Ham Bridge.
    Orleans is a pretty solution but doesn't add much in the shadow of Richmond. However Radnor Gardens would bring resources, and some poetic Twickenham style merits. I think Alexander Pope would have approved.