Chiswick House and Garden's 'Regeneration Scheme'

Joseph Mirwitch calls bid 'disastrous and destructive'

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Chiswick resident, Joseph Mirwitch, writes about English Heritage's bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £12 million.

"The London Borough of Hounslow for many years past, failed to provide adequate revenue funding for the maintenance of Chiswick House Grounds. The local authority’s anxiousness to avoid continuing spending, and English Heritage’s desire to hive off its responsibility led them to promote a Trust to deal with the future management of the House and Grounds. As well as forming this Trust, both Hounslow and English Heritage have effectively prescribed its policy, having put together the scheme for the Heritage Lottery Fund bid.

A key component of the (so called) ‘regeneration’ scheme is the intention that significant cash can be generated from use of Chiswick House and Grounds for private functions and for corporate entertainment. Heritage Lottery capital is to fund the new facilities needed devised to generate income. However, the problem with this apparent panacea is that the means proposed (Chiswick House as ‘the premier corporate entertainment venue’) will do terrible damage to Chiswick House and Grounds and effectively restrict public access and enjoyment.

At the end of last month the Chiswick House and Garden’s Trust resubmitted its bid for Lottery funding to finance its ‘Regeneration Scheme’ for Chiswick House and Grounds. The Trust had been asked to reconsider and resubmit its original application in view of serious concerns relating the controversial elements of the scheme and the lack of public consultation. Despite the serious concerns expressed by local residents and Heritage Lottery Fund Officers, the highly objectionable and controversial aspects of the scheme remain and have not been significantly modified. There has still been no meaningful public consultation and the contentious and highly unpopular aspects of the scheme have been kept hidden from the public.

The scheme includes the proposal of the construction of a new 120 space car park to cater for VIP visitors and corporate entertainment guests to be constructed within the historic walled historic walled ‘Kitchen Gardens’ area of Chiswick House grounds. The walled kitchen garden, which dates from 1678, has very important historical associations and is the only intact walled garden of its size in greater London.  At present there is a very successful project operating in the Kitchen Garden, using it for work with local schools and young people for growing vegetables.*

The scheme also entails the introduction of significant increased vehicle traffic into Chiswick House Grounds which will change the character of and damage the amenity of the main walkway serving the grounds.  The resubmitted scheme actually increases the extent of new vehicle road construction with transformation of the footpath along the line of the now defunct original route of Burlington Lane into a road for two way vehicle traffic.

The resubmitted scheme retained the highly controversial proposal for the demolition and replacement of this very successful park café. This café is highly popular with local residents and visitors to the park. There is overwhelming public support for the retention of this much loved café and its refurbishment.  As well as its popularity, The Burlington café is a very interesting and rare ‘modern movement’ design, with particular significance to the twentieth century history of Chiswick House Grounds.

The proposed modern extension to Chiswick House to create a corporate conferencing and entertainment facility is incompatible with the preservation of Chiswick House and its conservation as a building of national importance. John Harris, the eminent architectural historian has described this proposal as “demeaning one of our greatest buildings” (sic), and has pleaded that Chiswick House should not be “contaminated and endangered with the shabbiness of corporate entertainment” (sic).**

The trees to be felled include many mature trees. Scheduled for felling are the Oaks on the Lime Lawn; the Douglas Firs to the front of the villa; and willows by the long water. Much of the felling is to make space for cooperate events and the new car park. The (so called) ‘over mature’ trees to be felled are very ecologically important by virtue of the big biomass. As well as being to the detriment of the character and amenity of the Grounds, these changes threaten the wildlife and fauna.

Despite the concerns expressed by HLF officers, neither Hounslow nor the Trust has undertaken any full or meaningful public consultation relating to the unsustainable and the controversial aspects of the scheme. The potentially highly unpopular intentions to; construct a large new car park; build new roads and permit increased vehicle traffic; and to demolish a much loved café, have all been kept hidden for fear of the response.

It is a tremendous disappointment to all those of us who care about Chiswick House and Grounds that the resubmitted scheme remains as destructive of the house and park’s uniquely important character as were the original unsatisfactory proposals.”

Joseph Mirwitch

* The trust has subsequently claimed that this car park scheme was submitted by 'mistake'

**John Harris has now resigned from the Trust over aspects of the original bid)

November 16, 2005