Thames Landscape Strategy Unfolds

Chris Sumner wrote in 2003:

Originally inspired by proposals made by landscape architect Kim Wilkie for a 1991 RFAC exhibition, the “Thames Landscape Strategy: Hampton to Kew" aims to restore the networks of vistas and avenues linking the historic landscapes in that 12­mile stretch of river. Ten years on, the TLS is a reality with many initiatives happening.

Richmond Centenary

2002 was Richmond's year. One hundred years after the passing of the landmark 1902 Act of Parliament that protected the view from Richmond Hill, the focus was firmly back on the historic Thames landscape in southwest London.

In May Sir Roy Strong launched the TLS Heritage Lottery Fund bid, "Arcadia in the City" - a range of grands and petits projets to enhance the Richmond and Twickenham riversides - and unveiled a commemorative plaque on Richmond Hill. December saw the launch by Kim Wilkie of a Restoration Management Plan for the Ham Avenues. This had been commissioned by Richmond Council with an 80% grant from English Heritage.

In 2003 the work continues. Even while the view from Richmond Hill was being saved in 1901, Marble Hill Park on the Middlesex bank of the Thames at Twickenham was being threatened, as roads and sewers started to be laid preparatory to building houses. The forces that mustered to save Glover's Island in the Thames at Petersham from soap advertising hoardings also gathered to raise funds to buy out the developers, the Cunard family. London County Council opened the park to the public in 1903 and in 2003 English Heritage plans to celebrate the centenary with a special exhibition.

Marble Hill House itself is in good condition, but the park is in need of attention. A good start has been made in conjunction with Richmond Council and volunteers have cleared scrub from the towpath, so that the villa can again be seen from across the Thames. More needs to be done to ensure that the historical aspects of the parkland are enhanced while continuing to make provision for sport and recreation for local people.

Further information on Marble Hill House from English Heritage

£2.2m HLF grant awarded to "Arcadia in the City" project

The "Thames Landscape Strategy" is an ambitious multi-million pound project to restore the networks of vistas and avenues linking the historic landscapes along a 12-mile stretch of the Thames in south-west London, an area described by garden historian Mavis Batey as the cradle of English landscape gardening. It is supported by four councils, Hounlsow, Elmbridge, Kingston and Richmond and five public bodies, the Countryside Commission, English Heritage, English Nature, the Environment Agency and the Royal Parks Agency.

As part of this project, "Arcadia in the City" is a £2.5m package of landscape, access and nature conservation enhancements on and below the brow of Richmond Hill. Local people have already been hard at work clearing away the vegetation along the tow path to free up the celebrated vistas of Ham House (on the Surrey bank) and Marble Hill House (on the Middlesex bank). On the 1st February 2003 it was announced that the TLS had been awarded a total of £2.2m for "Arcadia in the City" by the Heritage Lottery Fund with £1.8m to be used for project work on the ground and the remainder on architects fees, landscape architects and consultation. The strategy will regenerate and manage the many historic buildings, landscaped gardens, avenues and meadowlands along this stretch of the Thames and 122 projects are planned for the next four years.

Vigilance Necessary

Kim Wilkie's championing of the Thames vistas that led to the TLS prompted and fed into the Government Office for London's "Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames" published in 1997.

This in turn has inspired a further partnership and a further study addressing London's river, the “Thames Strategy: Kew to Chelsea", published in June 2002. The Thames Strategy Steering Group Committee has just appointed a projects officer on a three-month contract to develop and investigate funding for a number of riverside improvement schemes, and funding is being sought to create a permanent post.

So far as London is concerned, the Government's Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames will be superseded by the Blue Ribbon Annexe to the London Plan, which contains policies for the River Thames and its tributaries and the canals.

Vigilance remains necessary. The London Plan, published in draft in the summer 2002 by the office of the Mayor, is badly flawed in some respects, not least in its proposals to remove the protection given to the strategic views of St Paul's and to delete the present strategic views of the cathedral from Westminster Pier and King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park.

Focus Shifts Upriver

The TLS is a partnership of four boroughs - Elmbridge, Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond - and in 2003 the focus will shift upriver.

On the Surrey bank opposite Hampton Court Palace is Cigarette Island, formerly ironically known as Venice on Thames. At the turn of the last century this was a mass of weekend holiday homes made of wood, corrugated iron, and converted railway carriages, and generally regarded as such an eyesore that the Office of Works bought the island in 1935 and turned it into a public park. A comparable eyesore and opportunity is now presented by the derelict site of the Jolly Boatman café and the scarcely less derelict Hampton Court Station. The station should be revived as a fitting introduction to the Palace, with an improved rail link to central London and an enlarged riverside park.

The redundant Seething Wells Water Works site at Surbiton is another target for the developers and will be the subject of a further public inquiry in February 2003 into a proposal to build flats on a sensitive riverside site opposite the Home Park. This is a site that the TLS recommended should be kept free of built development and be designated as Metropolitan Open Land.

Hounslow also has a long frontage to the river upstream of Kew Bridge, and residential and proposed commercial developments at Isleworth and Brentford present both challenges and opportunities for the Borough Council and the TLS.