Chiswick Boathouse plans scrapped

Image: The site of the old boathouse as viewed from the Dukes Meadows Footbridge

Council says still “significant potential” in developing site

Hounslow Council has officially abandoned plans to rebuild the Chiswick Boathouse in Dukes Meadows due to insufficient funding. Instead, the Council is now redirecting efforts to a £50,000 feasibility study to explore commercial opportunities. They say they will still prioritise restoring sporting activities on the site.

The previous boathouse on Dan Mason Drive, vacated by the Thames Tradesmen’s Rowing Club (TTRC) at the end of 2021 and demolished in 2022, was meant to be replaced by upgraded facilities, including a café and four boat bays.

The TTRC settled a legal dispute over their lease with the Council and was collaborating on the new clubhouse plan. In the interim, the club has been operating from the University of London’s Boathouse on Hartington Road.

A recent report from Hounslow Council disclosed a budget allocation of £260,000 from the borough’s feasibility fund for a new appraisal of the boathouse project, alongside improvements to the access road and a refresh of the Dukes Meadows Masterplan.

Last year’s budget included £4,038,000 for developing the boathouse, intended for expenditure in the current financial year. Despite this, no construction has begun, and Hounslow Council has now decided against spending the money in this way.

The Council report did not specify the reasons for halting the project, though rising construction costs and cost overruns on the Dukes Meadows Footbridge are believed to have impacted its viability.

Updating the Dukes Meadows Programme,  £750,000 is now proposed for highway works and £400,000 for parks works, funded from the unallocated capital fund and the Thriving Communities Fund.

Revenue projections for the boathouse, particularly from the café lease budgeted at £100,000 per annum, may have been overly optimistic given seasonal footfall fluctuations.

The Council has considered and rejected the option of leaving the site empty, stating:

“This is a key riverside site which has significant potential for sport and community use.”

Images: Illustration of the new boathouse plans which are now scrapped, Illustration of cafe included in the plans; Hounslow Council

Thames Tradesmen Rowing Club chairman would be “devastated” if new boathouse is not built

The original vision for the new boathouse included introducing rowing across the borough’s schools in collaboration with London Youth Rowing and British Rowing, aiming to provide every state secondary school pupil with the opportunity to experience rowing.

Alan Meegan, British Rowing Facilities Manager, said discussions are ongoing with Council and said that he would be very surprised if the site would be considered for another use. He said:

“We will of course be feeding into any feasibility studies and are confident that any proposals we submit will be given full consideration.”

Nigel Brophy, the Chairman of TTRC, said he would be “devastated” if the new boathouse was not built. The Thame Tradesmen Rowing Club is committed to broadening participation in the sport and its volunteer-run Learn to Row courses have significantly increased the number of people taking to the river.

However, being the tenant of a single boathouse bay raises cost and capacity issues for the club. Having previously benefitted from a relatively inexpensive lease in the old Chiswick Boathouse, it has now seen a huge increase in rents.

When the proposal to redevelop the boathouse was originally put forward, concerns were expressed that the site might be given over to a private members’ club with the means to pay an annual rent which would give the Council a return on its investment. The Council say they remain adamant that the priority is to provide a facility that can be used by the wider community.

Cllr Tom Bruce, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Development, said:

The boathouse site remains a priority for the Council and continues to provide an excellent opportunity to deliver a new riverside facility to meet the needs of the local community and provide access to water-based activities on the River Thames.

“We are currently working to appoint a consultant to explore a range of potential options and solutions for the future use of the site and expect an appraisal of these options by the end of June. This will be used to help decide on the future use of the site and the budget identified for this project.”