News Column

Museum for queen's barge Gloriana sparks protest in Richmond

June 30, 2014

Sandra Laville,

As the lead vessel in the Queen's diamond jubilee river pageant she glistened with gold, flew the flags of the United Kingdom, and epitomised the pomp and circumstance of the occasion.

Built in Richmond upon Thames especially for the jubilee and inspired by 18th century barges painted by Italian artist Canaletto, the royal barge Gloriana has been used in several ceremonies since her June 2012 debut including the Olympics.

But her next likely appearance in an enormous dry dock in a new river park alongside the Thames in Twickenham has sparked an angry protest.

The idea is the brainchild of Lord True, the Conservative leader of Richmond council, and involves 1m of public money to create a tourist and heritage site with Gloriana as its centre as a tribute to the vessel, its Richmond connections and the Queen.

But the wooded parkland in a conservation area earmarked as the vessel's new home is regarded by residents as a bucolic idyll that was donated to the local authority in the 1960s for the enjoyment of local families.

They claim the council covered up its intentions while working away with developers behind the scenes for months.

Paul Bigley, a local resident and spokesman for the critics, says he has uncovered unpublished plans for the river park.

"We have all seen surveyors marking out the ground over the last few weeks but all we have heard is rumours the council would not confirm," he said. "Now we find out they have been secretly planning and working away on this for a very long time and they have already got detailed plans drawn up, with a boat house that is over 100 foot [30 metres] long and 30 foot [nine metres] wide, which takes in the existing playground and the gardens, so people are very, very angry.

"We don't want what is a beautiful conservation area, a tranquil, quiet and wooded place to be turned into developed land. This area is like the riverside would have been before it was first developed in the 18th century. It is resplendent. It does not need a royal barge to be ram-roaded into it in what amounts to a vanity project."

Ten days ago, after Lord True let slip the proposals at a dinner, the council was forced to put out a press release confirming his wish to give Gloriana a permanent home.

Lord True, whose party gained a majority after the recent local elections, said the council had brought forward consultation on the proposal to this week as a result of "scaremongering and lies" from some parts of the community.

"I am not surprised people are fearful with some of the stuff that is being put out by I am not sure who," he said. "There is a whole series of complete fabrications being put out. It is no secret that for a long time we would have liked to get the Gloriana to be based here permanently.

"It is an amazing work of art which was built by a craftsman in Richmond, it seemed to be its natural home.

"This talk of a vanity project is nonsense. I am one of the least vain people you would find, I am not really interested in personal stuff. This is such an extraordinarily beautiful vessel and was built here, for a great historical event whatever you think about the Queen that was what the diamond jubilee was.

"I think people looking at it in terms of heritage, should not be frightened of doing this."

Lord True said the council plans, which are being circulated, were not the ones that would be used. Instead Lord Foster had been developing new plans for the dry dock and boat house. Talk of a car park and large tourist centre were "nonsense," he said. He said he had no details of how many of the 40-plus mature trees would be cut down but believed very few would be felled.

"I don't anticipate there are going to be coachloads of tourists, and we don't want to encourage more traffic," he said. "This is a beautiful vessel, an extraordinary piece of work and in the right setting won't disturb anyone."

During the consultation process, which starts on Tuesday, he said residents would be able to view the "concept of what architects are suggesting". But the detailed plans created by Lord Foster would not be available until they were submitted in a planning application in the autumn. The proposal is expected to be funded by an application to the heritage lottery fund, private donations and up to 1m of public money.

As protests build, there is talk of direct action if the council tries to force the idea through against the wishes of local people.

"What we fear is that this project will be a Trojan horse for more development along this beautiful bit of the riverside," said Bigley. "There is no getting away from the fact this vessel is 94 foot [28 metres] long, you will need a dry dock of at least 100 feet, and a canal to take it into the river.

"The council has been trying to cover this up. That is why people are so angry and why some are talking about standing in front of the cranes if and when they come."

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Source: Guardian Web

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