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An interview with Project Director Martin Clayton

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Below are extracts from an interview between Martin Clayton, Project Director on the Chiswick House and Grounds Regeneration Project and a member of Chiswick House Friends.

Chiswick House Friends: What is now the timing for submitting the Stage 2 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund?

Martin: We are now working towards a submission date of early 2007 and will be in a better position to assess the timing more accurately following the appointment of the architect later this month. In response to our Stage 1 submission, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) asked us to work up detailed designs for the cafe and some early outline visuals for a potential new Phase II facilities building. So we need to appoint an architect for both new build elements, which has added to our timescales. The HLF is supportive of our efforts to make sure the proposals are absolutely right, and have shown some flexibility in terms of deadlines.

We advertised the architect position earlier this year and identified a short-list of seven potential candidates. We are interviewing these and will make an appointment soon.

The additional time we have taken to ensure the brief was right for this appointment has impacted on the timescale of our HLF Stage 2 submission as the cafe is an essential element of this. We plan to publicise developed plans in November through new project information boards displayed in the Chiswick Town Hall, Chiswick Library and in the cafe. We will also hold a public meeting in November. Final proposals need to balance a number of aspects including historic, natural, community and sustainability considerations. We will provide explanatory information on the website for each of the Gardens character areas.

CHF: Within the overall context of the bid, will there be a specific emphasis on Peace and Tranquillity? Will the Trust commit to maintaining it as far as possible?

Martin: Since the beginning of the project we have realised the importance of Chiswick House & Gardens as an “oasis” and a “place of calm”, and this has guided our vision for the site and our plans. “Peace and Tranquillity” in the gardens is something we have aimed for throughout.

CHF: I’ll touch on some of the specific questions we sent to the Trust. Will the Friends’ recommendations for the Northern Wilderness be implemented?

Martin: We know that the Friends, and other community groups we have consulted, like the natural woodland character of the Northern Wilderness, and we want to protect this. This has guided us in our plans, and we are treating this area with a light touch, seeking to improve its current essential historic character and natural habitat. There is much we can do to improve the ecology/biodiversity, which is currently quite poor. The bats’ colonies are an important feature here and our plans respect their habitats. We want to avoid adding any unnecessary new roads or pathways to the existing garden layout and this should help to retain the site’s “peace and tranquillity”, as well as the freedom and safety of movement for users. We are
taking particular care to ensure that all central areas are kept road-free. Proposals anticipate that small parks vehicles carrying out essential soft landscape maintenance work will primarily use existing perimeter garden paths to access all areas of the gardens. These paths need to be of a sufficiently robust design to minimise wear and tear and ongoing repair costs, and include the path to the rear of the Northern Wilderness.

CHF: Will waterfowl like ducks and geese be affected detrimentally by your plans to reduce the amount of fencing around the lake?

Martin: We are taking advice on this matter through the ecological impact assessment. Waterfowl are robust creatures and quite used to dogs and people without the perceived benefit of fencing. However, there are a number of compensatory improvements planned around the lake including improving the two overgrown islands - one near the Park Road entrance and the other in the southern pool near the main Burlington Lane entrance, and these should provide additional cover.

CHF: There has been a lot of discussion about access, vehicular ways and traffic. Would you comment on these and particularly the recommendation that there should be no vehicular way across the site of the existing cafe?

Martin: We totally agree that we need to maintain the core centre of the gardens as a peaceful and safe place for all visitors. As such we will not be introducing any new roads. Currently there is a vehicular-way which runs in front of the existing cafe; this has been extended over time to become a wide pavement to accommodate café patrons. This track follows the historically important Old Burlington Lane, which used to serve the House. The Lane’s historic alignment has been interrupted in the area of the existing cafe and our intention is to redress this as part of the project. This also offers re-landscaping opportunities in the current hard paved areas.

While wanting to retain and improve this important historic carriage-way we need to provide the safest thoroughfare for pedestrians and park users. So we have designated an area southeast of the House to provide for vehicular turning, deliveries and disabled parking.

CHF: What is now the plan for the use of the northern walled garden?

Martin: As discussed and evolved during the consultation process, the northern walled garden (which is currently derelict and unused) will be developed to provide a useful site for a number of community activities such as craft markets and plant fairs, and will also be used on occasions for parking to support hospitality events. From our consultations (and those of the Chiswick House Friends) it appears that people are generally happy with this solution, though it is also very clear that people do not want this site to become a permanent car-park.

CHF: There has also been a lot of discussion about the southern walled garden. What is the current situation and what are your plans for it?

Martin: The southern walled garden will be used in the main for horticultural use under the control of the Head Gardener. The Kitchen Garden Association has done some excellent pioneering work in the southern walled Garden over the past year or more in engaging school children and other volunteer kitchen gardeners in producing wonderful vegetables, plants and flowers. We are very happy with the results that the KGA have achieved, and are keen to see this initiative continue as part of the use of this space. The Head Gardener will also require space for horticultural use associated with the management of the gardens. A further area [about a quarter] will be laid to lawn, to provide a flexible area that could respond to a variety of potential uses including occasional events.

CHF: What are the current plans for the cafe? Will you implement the recommendations of our members in their response to the design and use of the cafe?

Martin: Yes - we found the members’ recommendations very helpful, and we are making full use of them as we develop plans for a new cafe. Some of the recommendations are informing designs and others will inform the catering offer. The cafe consultation feedback forms part of the briefing to both.

CHF: Are you now committed to a self-policing approach to dog walking?

Martin: We have listened carefully to the views of dog owners and to the many other users and potential users; the Trust are acutely aware that the Gardens must respond to a wide range of visitors as part of a sustainable future. Responding to feedback from consultations, we are looking at developing a “code of conduct” for all users of the Gardens, and within it a self-policing approach to dog walking. There are certain times of the year when dogs off the lead may cause damage or nuisance - for example, when birds are nesting; when planting has taken place; when cricket is being played on the green; when families are picnicking at holiday times in the summer months. We believe that this approach can work well with the understanding and support of the dog-owning fraternity, and offers a number of associated benefits and opportunities for the Trust.

CHF: Has the Head Gardener been appointed?

Martin: The position of Head Gardener has been advertised, applications received and short-listed applicants interviewed. Two very good candidates have emerged as being suitable and from which an appointment will be made following a final interview. We hope the successful candidate will take up the post at the end of this year.

CHF: Finally, what are the prospects for improving the quality of the cricket pitch and supporting areas such as the Pavilion and nets?

Martin: The cricket area comes outside of the HLF bid. However we are very aware of the important role that cricket has to many who use the grounds, and are working through ideas for attracting funding for the sustained improvement of these facilities.


This interview was originally published in the Chiswick House Friends' newsletter and appears here with their kind permission. For information about joining Chiswick House Friends see the link above

November 4, 2006