Richard Deverell – the Kew Gardens Strategy published in March 2021

Richard Deverell, Director of Kew Gardens, spoke to The Richmond Society on Thursday 17th June 2021 about the Kew Gardens Strategy that was published earlier this year.

Richard is the fifteenth Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He has devoted his career to leading innovative and ambitious improvements to public engagement and education. For example, at the BBC he revamped the Children’s BBC channel with a mission to raise the quality of programming for children, introducing new content that would educate and engage them.

Since joining Kew, he has led the refresh of Kew’s strategy, bringing expertise from Kew’s global science into sharper focus and more actively engaging the public with contemporary science and conservation in Kew’s beautiful historic gardens.

He is a passionate advocate for the power of plants and fungi to help solve the critical challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century. He is also an official Champion for Food Forever, a global initiative that aims to secure biodiversity for the benefit of food security around the world.

You can read about the March 2021 Kew Gardens Strategy at this link.

Gaucho and the Landing Stage

Gaucho, which operates a restaurant with an outdoor area on the towpath near Richmond Bridge and the Richmond Hill conservation area, applied for planning permission to operate a seasonal restaurant on part of Richmond Landing Stage. The application envisaged Jumbrellas, an outdoor cinema and take-away service. The application was opposed by The Richmond Society and River Thames Society as well as several nearby residents, and Richmond Council’s Planning Committee rejected it in robust terms.

At the same time Gaucho applied for a licence to sell alcohol from the Landing Stage not only to diners there but also as a take-away. We opposed that too. Richmond Council’s Licensing Committee considered that there were no grounds to justify refusing the application and granted a licence (which excluded operating an outdoor cinema on the Landing Stage). Although this seems perverse, the Council’s Planning and Licensing committees operate under different statutory regimes.

You might therefore have been surprised to see that Gaucho is operating a restaurant on the Landing Stage. It is relying on the Government’s extension to permitted development rights which temporarily allows restaurants to operate for 56 days in circumstances which would otherwise require planning permission. As Gaucho now has a licence to sell alcohol on and from the Landing Stage it can operate its extended restaurant for 56 days even though it was refused planning permission.

Neighbours who opposed the planning application were concerned about additional noise and disturbance. In addition to these reasons The Richmond Society opposed it because of the encroachment on Metropolitan Open Land, the river and use of the river and increased congestion on an already crowded towpath with adverse effects which may result from greater light pollution.

Landing stage at Gaucho looking towards Richmond Bridge

For many years we have opposed extending commercial operations on the towpath, particularly that part of it which is upstream or south of Richmond Bridge. The rural and special setting must be protected, and creeping commercial encroachment will ultimately destroy that which residents and visitors alike come to enjoy. The photograph shows how the new operation on the Landing Stage impedes the view towards Richmond Bridge. The blue covers are instead of the Jumbrellas referred to in the planning application which would have been even more intrusive.

We understand that COVID has taken a significant financial toll on local businesses and that relaxing the regulations is intended to boost the hospitality sector of the economy. However this must be balanced against the detrimental effect on the local environment.

Mayor unveils Richmond Society information board

Richmond’s Mayor, Councillor Geoff Acton, in his first engagement since his re‑election to a second year in office, on Thursday unveiled an information board marking 800 years of St Mary Magdalene Church at the heart of the town.

The board, provided by The Richmond Society as a gift to the town, includes descriptions of the church’s architectural development and prominent members of its past congregations.

Photo of Richmond Society Chairman and Mayor Geoff Acton at the unveiling

It is based on research by Peter Bowyer, Parish Architect; Paul Velluet, President, Richmond Local History Society; the Museum of Richmond; and members of the Rector Canon Wilma Roest’s congregation. Illustrations were created on scratch board by Caroline Church, whose work also adorns other boards placed in other parts of the town by the Society. Caroline’s late father David Church was a Chairman of the Society.

In the photo, the Mayor is seen with Society’s current Chairman Barry May.

Manoj Badale – How the Business of Sport is Changing

Manoj Badale OBE, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of the Rajasthan Royals, spoke to The Richmond Society on Thursday 13th May 2021 about how the business of sport, and cricket in particular, is changing.

A message from The Richmond Society: If you love Richmond and are not already a member, our membership is open to you. We invite you to attend our events, make your opinion heard, campaign on issues close to your heart, and volunteer your skills. How much you get involved is up to you.  By joining us, you will become part of an active community of like-minded people, and you will strengthen our collective voice as we seek to influence decisions affecting Richmond.  So please do join usI You can do so online by clicking Join in the menu above.

More information about the speaker:

Manoj Badale was born in Dhule, Maharashtra, India, but grew up in the UK. He studied economics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge University.

Since 1998, he has been the co-founder of over forty businesses, largely technology related, all set up with his business partner Charles Mindenhall, which they manage through their venture building group – Blenheim Chalcot.

In 2013, Manoj led the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) for Rt Hon Matthew Hancock, when in position of Skills and Enterprises Minister. More recently, Manoj was recently appointed to the NHS Health Tech Advisory Board.

Manoj is heavily involved in charitable activities and is the founding trustee and chairman of the British Asian Trust and was also the chairman of Operation Smile UK until 2014. He was also a founding trustee of the charity Technology Trust. In June 2018, Manoj was awarded an OBE for services to the economy and charity.

Manoj has recently co-authored a book on the business of sport, A New Innings. Copies can be purchased here with all proceeds going to the British Asian Trust Covid Appeal.

Dominic Palacio – Changing Lives Through the Power and Influence of Sport

Dominic Palacio, Head of Community at Richmond Rugby, spoke to The Richmond Society on Thursday 15th April 2021 about the extensive work of Richmond Rugby in the community, particularly during the pandemic.

Dominic writes:

Richmond Rugby Community department, at its basic level is to promote and encourage the participation of rugby in local borough schools and we now deliver weekly rugby coaching in over 20 schools. Since the Covid pandemic hit we have had major restrictions delivering our normal work, so we decided to focus our resources helping those most in need in our local community.

Each school holiday we have cooked and delivered a nutritional meal to vulnerable children – averaging over 60 meals per day, we even cooked and delivered a Christmas meal for entire families on Christmas Day. We have a team of nearly 20 local volunteers who help us with the daily deliveries.

When schools were shut again by government in early January we focussed our effort in receiving and then refurbishing second hand laptops and tablets from local people every Saturday throughout January. To date we have had donated over 800 devices, and over 200 of which have been professionally wiped and refurbished and distributed to over 23 local schools.

Our other work extends to running a Rugby Rehabilitation programme for young men aged 15 – 18 years of age in HMP Feltham Youth Offenders Institute. And a joint partnership with the Met Police and the MCC foundation running a crime prevent programme – using sport as the platform to help educate children in deprived areas of the risks of gangs and criminal activity.

Sir Peter Hendy – Fifty years in public transport

Sir Peter Hendy, Chair of Network Rail, spoke to The Richmond Society on Thursday 18 March 2021 about his wide ranging and continuing experience in public transport in London and the rest of the country.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE, is arguably Britain’s foremost public transport expert. He is Chair of Network Rail, and was previously Commissioner of Transport for London for nearly ten years. He is also Chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation which is developing the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. In addition, he recently published his interim report into the connectivity of the four nations of the United Kingdom, a task commissioned directly by the Prime Minister.

Sir Peter lives in Richmond and is a member of our Society. He started his career in 1975 as a London Transport graduate trainee. He is a trustee of London’s Transport Museum and of the Science Museum Group. He was knighted for services to transport and the community in 2013 following the successful operation of transport during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, having been made CBE in 2006 after the London bombings of 2005.

The Richmond Society responds to the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Culture Review

The Richmond Society, a civic and amenity charity of nearly 1,300 members in North and South Richmond Wards and part of Ham, Petersham and Riverside Ward, held a forum on Thursday 15 October 2020 to discuss how the Arts could help to revive Richmond. Participants were leading figures in the Arts and business in Richmond as well as the Council’s spokesperson for the Arts.

The forum was in the context of the deleterious effect on mental health and wellbeing caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its adverse effects on public life. At that point, people had been deprived of cultural nourishment for more than six months, although the availability of abundant open spaces in the immediate area and across the borough had been important to the preservation of physical and mental health in the face of widespread challenges affecting all sections of the population.

Richmond is rightly celebrated for the diversity and richness of its cultural and leisure offerings. When post-pandemic life returns to normal it is unlikely to be as it was before COVID-19 began to infect people at the beginning of 2020. People will have adjusted to a pattern of less frequent commuting and increased working from home, with more time for cultural, social and other leisure pursuits which they will seek increasingly in their immediate or nearby neighbourhoods.

Hence the concept of the 15-minute city in which proximity permits minimal travel between homes, workplaces, restaurants, cultural venues, parks and sports facilities. Richmond is ideally placed to benefit from this behavioural change. In many ways, it is already a 10-minute town.

Our virtual forum recognised that the Arts have a part to play in restoring vibrancy to a town centre made desolate by the demise of many retail, entertainment and hospitality businesses. It also showed that business and the Arts can work together for mutual and public benefit. For example, businesses have employees who are potential daytime consumers of the Arts; they may also have funds to sponsor something that fits their objectives. Property developers and landlords, with the encouragement of the local authority, could be asked to do more to support the culture sector. Hoardings around development sites could be made more interesting with information about local history or old photos. Recently, Be Richmond (the Business Improvement District) has led the way on this by producing colourful vinyl coverings for the windows of vacant shops. They feature local places of cultural interest – an initiative that we applaud. Be Richmond has other initiatives in the pipeline.

Our Borough is blessed with an abundance of parks and open spaces – amenities that make it so attractive as a place in which to live, work or visit. The present consultation should usefully examine whether they provide adequate facilities and are kept safe for the enjoyment of residents of all ages and abilities in the face of increased incidents of anti-social behaviour, particularly since the start of the public health emergency.

Although the decline in the retail sector began with the trend towards online shopping – i.e. before the pandemic – it was exacerbated by the effects of government measures to deal with the spread of the disease. People have been obliged to learn new habits. So the revival of the High Street may not be possible on the same terms as before. Fresh thinking is needed to bring shoppers, who are contributors to the local economy, back to retail centres. People will need another reason beside the acquisition of things to be persuaded to return. The shopping experience will have to be raised to a higher level of engagement and retailers will need to offer more than artful window displays and enticingly stacked shelves. The Arts sector can be a partner to them and to the local authority in devising imaginative ways to make this happen.

Many ideas for restoring vitality to the town emerged at The Richmond Society forum. These included:

  • Creation of a new town square as a permanent outdoor performance space for cultural performances near the under-utilised Old Town Hall and the Riverside.
  • A street-level location for the Museum of Richmond, which is all but hidden in a remote, difficult- to-access part of the Old Town Hall.
  • Pop-up exhibitions of contemporary visual arts in static window displays in vacant shopfronts.
  • Use of hoardings around building works to depict local artists.
  • Creation of a vibrant, creative studio space – possibly one or more of the many empty shops – to host active artists and help them financially to develop their own ideas, engage the community and create work that animates the townscape.
  • Allocation of studio space in vacant buildings such as the former House of Fraser department site in George Street where artists can work and produce everything from fashion to sculpture to music.
  • Production of a performing arts, circus-style street festival.
  • Bring landlords and artisans together.
  • Engage young people in re-building the cultural scene.

The present review of cultural services flows naturally from this initiative.

The Richmond Society is pleased that the Council is looking towards a ten-year vision for the culture sector and we are keen to work with all stakeholders on how it can be implemented.

Our enthusiasm is tempered only by our conviction that the need is more pressing than a ten-year view would allow. Therefore we would encourage the Council to take more immediate, shorter- term steps to support the cultural community.

Society to Council: Open public loos now to prevent anti-social behaviour

The Richmond Society has urged Richmond Council to provide public lavatories in a bid to prevent a repeat of anti-social behaviour witnessed in popular gathering places last year.

Action is needed urgently before the start of finer weather and the visitor season if Richmond is not to be plagued by incidents of urination and defecation on public and private property, including residents’ gardens.

Provision of public lavatories is under review by the Council with the aim of agreeing a plan of action by the end of March. There has been no indication that the Council will accede to residents’ demands for a permanent solution to the dearth of facilities or, as a temporary measure, install portable toilets.

The Society is working with councillors for South Richmond, which attracts most visitors and where most incidents occurred in 2020. Areas affected included the Green, the Riverside and the Hill.

The Society’s Chairman, Barry May, in a message to Council Leader Gareth Roberts, said the absence of facilities raised issues of public health, hygiene, safety and decency.

He asked whether there is an allocation in the current financial year’s budget for provision of public lavatories. If not, what re-allocation is envisaged so that facilities can be put in place in time for this year’s visitor season?

“Given the damage inflicted by lockdown and other consequences of measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic on the local hospitality, leisure and retail sectors it is only natural that the Council would wish to attract visitors. To do so without providing adequate facilities, however, would be reckless,” he wrote.

The Council’s Community Toilet Scheme, in which hospitality, leisure and retail premises are paid a monthly fee to allow members of the public who are not customers to use their facilities, whilst helpful in theory, has failed in practice.

Portable toilets, although considered by some to be an unsightly second-best solution, would be better than no solution. They can be only a temporary stop-gap, however.

Homebase, Manor Road – development to go ahead

Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, has just declined to call in the development plans for the Homebase site in Manor Road. This means that the Mayor of London’s decision in October to approve the application stands and that the development will proceed, subject to the developer Avanton agreeing s106 terms with Richmond Council and the GLA securing the affordable homes and other contributions to make the development acceptable in planning terms.

Richmond Council despite expressing “extreme disappointment” at Mr Jenrick’s decision, has apparently decided not to seek a judicial review of the Mayor’s decision so unless a third party does so the development will proceed.

The development approved by the Mayor is for 453 new residential units in five blocks ranging from four to eleven storeys. This contrasts with the scheme which Richmond Council rejected in July 2019 which proposed 385 homes with buildings of four to nine storeys. The Richmond Local Plan has a maximum of six storeys!

The pictures show the scale of the proposed buildings compared with the current setting.

Photo mockup of Manor Road Development

Drawing of Manor Road Development indicating scale

Ironically the letter from the Ministry of Housing says: “The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.”

The Mayor of London and the Government have ignored over 700 objections to the original plan rejected by Richmond Council. After the Mayor took over the role of planning authority in place of Richmond Council, the plans were further revised to increase density and height of the buildings. Thus the original objections which were principally about the effect on the immediate community, that the scale of development was over development of the site and would change the nature of the area and that the local amenities, especially transport, would be inadequate for the number of residential units applied even more to the revised plans but all were rejected. In addition the provisions of Richmond’s Local Plan have been overridden.

In this case local appears to mean regional!

A final point is that this development may set a precedent for other applications for buildings in excess of six storeys. Less “rus” in “urbe”.

Homebase – update

Since our last update the Council met on Tuesday 26 January and passed the following resolution which was proposed by Cllr Fleming (South Richmond), seconded by Cllr Baldwin (North Richmond), and received unanimous approval from councillors:

“The Council expresses its disappointment that the Secretary of State has not called in the Homebase application which the Mayor has resolved to approve though it would damage the character of the area. It recognises the strong feelings of residents on the subject and will continue to explore with them and their Ward Councillors the implications of the application and the scope for amelioration or challenge.”

It is heartening that this was a cross-party resolution reflecting the approach of Richmond Councillors and we look forward to working with them and local residents. It would seem that the Council has been advised that a successful judicial review of Mayor Khan’s decision is unlikely and that it would not be an appropriate use of resources to pursue one.

There remain issues about the weight the Mayor attached to the site’s good transport connectivity as part of his reasons for approving the development despite this not being so. For example, the hearing report claimed that North Sheen is served by 8 trains per hour to Waterloo despite 4 of them going away from Waterloo on the loop. Likewise, no account was taken of the changes announced by TfL in June 2020 reducing the bus services. Stephen Speak raised this point at the Council meeting and we hope the officers will consider the issue.