James Cracknell Blasts Rowing Club Eviction As 'Unfair'
Over 14,000 sign Thames Tradesmen's Rowing Club's petition against Council action
The rowing club evicted from Chiswick Boathouse is seeking legal help and looking for public support in their battle to persuade Hounslow Council to change their mind. They have started a petition which, at the time of writing, already has over 14,000 signatures.
The Council wants to force the Thames Tradesmen’s Rowing Club (TTRC) to accept a short-term licence for the facilities they have used for the last 33 years. TTRC say that in theory there are another 15 years to run on their lease. The Council wants them to give up this lease and instead accept a rolling six-month licence.
TTRC say that with no prior warning, communication or negotiation, last month the club were given just four weeks’ notice of the eviction from the Council – leaving little time to appeal or relocate. In a subsequent move that took the club by surprise, the Council shut the boathouse on Sunday (19 August) and the following day changed the locks and took away their keys.
This Saturday (25 August) 15-20 members of the club were allowed back into the club to retrieve their boats and other possessions. Once derigged, the boats will be stored on a trailer on the grounds of another rowing club in the local area, who have offered to assist. Though this storage method is not an ideal situation for the club, as keeping the boats outside in a trailer is likely to damage them, the alternative is not being able to row at all – and the rowers are keen to get back out on the water.
Paul Arnold, the Captain, commented, “To everyone who has offered to help us in this difficult time – thank-you very much for your support. All we want to do is to maintain the long-term survival of a club that’s been going for 121 years. As members, we are just passing custodians – the club’s history is greater than our own. Recovering our boats is a small victory which we are grateful for, but to be able to pass the club on to the next generation, we absolutely must have a stable base to work from. Only with a stable base can we grow the club and continue to provide access to rowing for all.”
The Council has plans to demolish the clubhouse and use the land to construct another boathouse which would have a café at the ground floor level as part of their Dukes Meadows 'Masterplan'. However, even if the project proceeds as planned, the current building will remain in place for at least the next two to three years. This has left TTRC perplexed at why the Council needs to take such drastic action at this stage.
The Council's actions have forced the club to spend a past President's legacy to seek legal clarification from the High Courts. In the interim period Hounslow Council are denying the club access to the boathouse and the club claims that they are refusing to talk directly to their representatives.
Established in 1897, the club has a proud heritage of international representation stretching back to the 1960s. Olympic medallists Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, James Cracknell OBE, and Martin Cross are just a few of the rowing stars who raced for TTRC.
In a sport often labelled as elitist, the club say they have always succeeded in championing rowers from all levels and backgrounds – from young children to veterans and everything in between.
Olympic gold medal winner, James Cracknell OBE, an active member of the club, said, “There are rowers who are locked out of their clubhouse, unable to use their own boats. I trust the council will see the unfairness in this situation and at least postpone this action until a way forward can be found to restore rowing at the club. Thames Tradesmen’s is a unique club that offers fantastic sporting and social activities for the local community.”
Hounslow Council are claiming that TTRC previously agreed to the licence arrangement at a meeting back in July. They say that the current buildings are in a poor state and underused and funding arrangements are now in hand with indicative finance of £300,000 from two sources and recent interest from a major institution in providing a further funding tranche.
They further claim that TTRC ‘have no legal interest within the property’, and that sub-letting arrangements have taken place without the council’s knowledge or approval. Therefore ‘in order to regularise the current arrangements and agree how the site can be developed to secure a certain future and greater use’, they have now taken possession of the building.
They claim to have contacted all the occupiers of the building and all but TTRC accepted the ‘affordable and realistic’ terms offered. These other groups include Old Meadonians Football Club, London Youth Rowing, Chiswick School, Chiswick Rugby Football Club, and the Oratory School.
The Council claim that after a meeting on 26 July the club agreed to the new arrangement and a draft licence was issued to the club’s legal advisors within 48 hours. Since that time, the council has not received any further response from the club in relation to the documentation.
Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, said, “The council has exerted huge time and effort in seeking to improve the sporting facilities at Dukes Meadows to the benefit of all. My team has developed a strong working relationship with the majority of stakeholders and interested parties, and we undertook a wide-ranging consultation exercise to ensure we had full community engagement. The suggestion that any party has been wilfully excluded is simply not true.
“My officers identified six parties occupying the Chiswick Boat House on ad hoc terms and they have met with all concerned to agree how to move forward in the medium term as we prepare for a much-improved facility on site. With the sole exception of Thames Tradesmen, we have mutually agreed terms with five of the six parties, and all of them are using the facility this week with, by and large, business as usual.
“Terms were agreed with Thames Tradesmen, who alone have decided to refuse to engage and complete the licence. The suggestion that the council wishes to see the development of a private members’ club is false, and my sole concern is to see an improvement in the facilities to the benefit of all users.
“Following the apparent breakdown of discussions with the Thames Tradesmen leadership, we have been approached by individual members who have asked for licences direct, and we are happy to proceed on that basis. I would encourage any parties that wish to be considered as licensees to contact my Director of Estates.”
TTRC are appealing to the public for help. The club has set up a petition requesting that Hounslow Borough Council withdraw the eviction. Within 24 hours of being set up, the petition had already received over 7,000 signatures.
August 26, 2018