Letter from Peter Francis to the Richmond and Twickenham Times
26 October 2003
Subject: Twickenham Baths Site
Your correspondent says ‘It is inconceivable that a handful of objectors have persuaded John Prescott to call in the children’s playground and garden scheme at Twickenham Riverside’. Quite right. It is. They didn’t. It was the scheme itself that did it.
Wherever do your correspondents get the idea that objectors are so influential that they can secure a public inquiry simply by complaining loudly and often? There has to be substance. You will only get an inquiry, and as David Barnes has said, it is a rare event, if Central Government believes there are issues that need to be explored. This is obviously true since if they were called without justification whenever an objector bleated the whole system would be discredited. Objectors present an opinion but it is the planning application itself which determines whether plans are called in.
In the present case there is even less cause to blame the objectors since the Council’s plans had to go to GOL (Government Office for London) as LBRUT cannot be judge in its own cause. And at GOL they can read and have minds of their own. If anyone is to blame, and I don’t like the blame game, it is the Council who knew perfectly well the flaws in their own case – they were told often enough.
Objectors are not popular, particularly when they are right. By and large, and they don’t all sing to the same hymn sheet, they have been right over the Baths Site development. They were right in opposing the Marks and Spencers Plan or, if wrong, the Planning Inspector must also have been wrong – men ‘well known for their rigour and objectivity’ to quote another of your correspondents.
The Lib Dems, bless ’em, then tried their hand at public participation, a difficult thing to manage and it withered but we did get a competition, though I forget how the winner was chosen, and the Council started work with the prize winner. At that time some of the ‘objectors’ were working with the Council to try and improve the plan. But for perfectly good reasons the Council severed its relationship with that developer before taking up with Dawnay Day. Wasted time, of course, but it could not have been foreseen.
Meanwhile these objectors still sweated blood trying to improve the new plan. Eventually this cooperation broke down, the plans were called in and another public inquiry announced. Were the objectors right in their strenuous opposition? Obviously they were for the Tories, as soon as they took control of the Council, said good bye to Dawnay Day and talked about a Jubilee Gardens. Just what we wanted we thought but regrettably that now seems to have been just the election talking.
It must be said this is a particularly difficult site to get right. There is money in it. Developers will always try and reduce the public content to increase their profit and they are very skillful at manipulation but the delays are mostly due to pursuing plans dogmatically which a little reflection would show were not right. We thought with a new administration that was all behind us. It seems not.
From Peter Francis,