Plans for a multi-story mixed use arts and residentialcomplex have been unveiled for central Twickenham, just across the street from the rail station in a former Royal Mail sorting office. These include spaces for a theatre, cinema and performance space as well as 82 new homes, 16 of which will be affordable housing. The art centre is meant to host social and community events which makes me - watcher and unashamed cheerleader of venues/projects such as these - very excited.
Since the scheme allows for less than a fifth of the new homes to be affordable there has been controversy. Councillor Geoffrey Samuel said, "only the conservatives will restore the arts to Twickenham” and that if plans are approved, the project will be completed by the spring of 2016 as part of the Twickenham Area Action Improvement Plan (scheduled to last until 2027). Councillor Stephen Knight, leader of the opposition in Richmond is critical of the plans for ignoring affordable housing needs and requiring funding that might jeopardise other current arts centres such as the Orleans House Gallery. The reservation is that most homes in the new development will go to investor buyers rather than owner occupiers. There has been a doubling in the number of local families being relocated to bed and breakfasts in the past year.
It’s a shame that this project is such a political football. We desperately need community involvement in the production and enjoyment of the arts. We also desperately need the talented artistic members of our communities to stay in London. That won’t be possible unless housing that’s affordable to hard-working talented individuals/families is more plentiful and available. Surely Richmond councillors could have come up with a more equitable, sustainable and vibrant solution. I know it’s hard when you’re sitting on a gold mine of real estate, but please think about the long-term vibrancy, legacy and sustainability of this patch of southwest London that I love.