SWLEN recently responded to Richmond Council’s publication of a report on possible locations for a new pedestrian bridge over the Thames.
Location 13 (Radnor Gardens to Ham Lands)
Radnor Gardens is a well-used local park bordering the Thames in Strawberry Hill and is designated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Ham Lands is a wonderful nature reserve designated as MOL, a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC), site ref MO 83. It is managed according to a Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme ‘to improve and maintain the quality of the semi-improved meadow grassland, scrub, pond and wetland habitats’. Ham Lands is also a key component of the Thames dark corridor which is an important route for foraging and ‘commuting’ bats.
We have very serious environmental concerns about the consequences of building a bridge from Radnor Gardens across to Ham Lands and a raised path to Riverside Drive. We understand the work undertaken by consultants in the Thames bridge feasibility study didn’t consider any planning considerations, and we feel this shows.
In our opinion a bridge in this location would have a very detrimental impact on riverbank habitats at the point where the bridge is built and fragment the continuous semi-natural riverbank which runs from the Thames Young Mariners lock to the car park at Ham Street.
The 570m ‘shared use path’ would degrade the biodiversity and habitats of of Ham Lands north by cutting through areas of meadow and shrub and inserting an embankment through the wet woodland and other areas prone to natural flooding. It would fragment this area and leave a strip of varying width between the new path and the boundary with Thames Young Mariners which over time would be devalued by being cut off from the main part of Ham Lands North. During construction of the link there would be considerable disruption and disturbance to habitats and biodiversity along the length of the route and the permanent intrusion of activity both by those travelling along the path and those drawn to the area by the new bridge and path would degrade this area of Ham Lands and devalue it as a Local Nature Reserve.
Lighting the shared use path would result in significant light pollution in this important dark corridor. The link between the bridge and Riverside Drive would run across a relatively isolated area and would presumably need to be lit for safety and security reasons, as would the bridge itself. The impact of this would be exacerbated by the path being raised above the level of the surrounding land to avoid flooding. There would also, no doubt, be demands for the tow path to be lit in due course which would degrade the dark corridor further. The Borough has a light pollution policy and a Bat Species Action Plan as part of the Biodiversity Action Plan. Lighting of the bridge and footpath through Ham Lands would cause detriment to bats in this feeding and commuting corridor.
We recognise that Ham and Petersham has transport access issues, with effectively one road in and out. It is poorly severed by public transport as well as walking and cycling routes to public transport. The Ham and Petersham Neighbourhood Forum have identified access to and from Ham as a problem for their residents and have commissioned research to look at options at improving this. Their interest is in increasing pedestrian and cycle access out of Ham for commuting, principally to Richmond as it has better public transport options and is in zone 4 whereas Strawberry Hill is zone 6. Therefore, a bridge at this point might provide connectivity for the residents of Strawberry Hill to Ham Lands but would do nothing to improve connectivity for the residents of Ham and Petersham. We feel a bridge needs to connect two communities, not just one, particularly when being built at great expense by the public purse.
Location 15 – (Orleans Garden to Ham Street car park)
We consider construction of a bridge at this point would have least environmental impact but this needs to be investigated further through an environmental impact assessment. A bridge being built at this location would also likely impact Hammerton’s Ferry and this needs to be assessed in detail, with sufficient compensation offered should it be the case. This could also be considered in conjunction with the redevelopment of Twickenham Riverside, such moving the current boat, canoe and kayak hire to this new location which would have a higher footfall to the business and provide a new tourist attraction for the riverside. The Council could facilitate this through a new peppercorn rent and long lease to offer continuity and security.