Chiswick Flower Market organisers present plans to improve ‘Old Market Place’

Image above: Chiswick Flower Market (photograph Frank Noon)

An opportunity for some community-led ideas

The organisers of the Chiswick Flower Market have put forward plans to revitalise ‘Old Market Place’, the car park area opposite Marks & Spencer in Chiswick High Rd where the Sunday markets are held.

The Flower Market directors commissioned landscape architect Luke Greysmith to come up with a design to cheer up the market area and make it greener, which he presented to a well-attended meeting in the Boston Room of George IV pub on Monday night (10 October).

They said they wanted to open a conversation so the local community had a say in how our town centre is developed in the future, rather than merely being the recipients of plans by consultants employed by the local council.

The designs were well received and several people in the Q&A after the presentation suggested they could be bolder and more radical.

Image above: Flash flood in Chiswick High Rd, caused by heavy rainfall

Introducing “Rain Gardens”

The main difference in Luke’s design to what is currently there is that he would do away with the strip of concrete between the wall along the south side of the High Rd and the parking bays, putting in a strip of earth which could be planted so rainwater could drain away.

Chiswick has suffered from flash floods recently and he has designed several ‘rain gardens’ elsewhere, including a ‘pocket park’ in Tower Hamlets which breaks up the concrete landscape and provides ‘sustainable urban drainage’, ie. earth.

Images above: Room for improvement; photographs Chiswick Flower Market

Why the area needs sprucing up

Karen Liebreich presented some photographs illustrating why the place needed a tidy up, showing bollards knocked over and the wall of the plant beds bulging outwards. The most obvious eyesore is the fence of blue plastic barriers in place to block off the unused access to the car park half-way along, now that the cycle lane is in place.

Not all the parking bays are usable because of tree roots and the telephone box is “mainly used as a urinal as far as I can tell” she said.

Luke said he had noted “several awkward, unused corners” along Old Market Place. He is suggesting reducing the current 52 parking spaces to 44 and making a new pedestrian plaza out of the redundant access road.

He is also suggesting reducing the road space from its current 51% to 41%. There could also be sculptures, flags, lighting and planting: “something locally distinctive” on the shops side.

Image above: Existing public realm; Luke Greysmith Landscape Architects

Images above: Chiswick Antiques and Vintage market (photograph Frank Noon); Chiswick Cheese Market (photograph David Insull)

Money available for environmentally friendly designs

Karen Liebreich introduced the meeting, saying that with the redevelopment of the police station building into flats for older people and LB Hounslow engaging consultants to look at plans for all the town centres in the borough, now would be a good time for the community to decide what it wanted to see happen to the area which is at the heart of our high street.

The flower market has now been running for two years – 20 markets to date – and, said Ollie Saunders, the volunteer organisers had learned a lot. The data they have gathered shows Chiswick is busier on market Sundays (flower market first Sunday, antiques and vintage market second Sunday, cheese market third Sunday), that the people who came were largely local (48%), they tended to walk there and use the shops, restaurants and cafes at the same time.

The events they had put on – the children’s carousel and Punch and Judy show for the Jubilee market and last year’s Christmas tree, lit by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, had been hugely popular.

Image above: Enhanced public realm; Luke Greysmith Landscape Architects

Image above: An example of inhospitable seating; photograph Luke Greysmith

Electricity and water for the markets

LB Hounslow’s consultation on town centres has asked for ‘big ideas’ and ‘community led’ ideas and there is money available for developing the town centres in the borough. The flower market organisers would like at very least to improve on the facilities there are now by providing traders with electricity and water.

The organisers of the antiques and cheese markets were also at the meeting. Jules Kane from the cheese market confirmed they had had to cancel the August market because their cheese would not have survived the heat without refrigeration. Jennifer Titmuss said she would also like to see better street cleaning before the markets because the place always looked “an absolute tip” on Sunday mornings, with the dustbins overflowing.

Ollie Saunders said they wanted good wifi connectivity and more spending by the Council on making Chiswick a ‘destination’. The flower market has spent some of its income on adverts on London Underground to try and get people to come to the market from further afield.

Image above: Chiswick Flower Market Platinum Jubilee celebration; photograph Anna Kunst

“The High Rd is buzzing on market day”

Kathleen Mitra presented the results of three surveys – one of people at the market, one of residents by email, (though only the self-selected 1,600 who had signed up to the flower market’s newsletter), and one of local businesses.

They had received some brilliant comments she said.

“Chiswick feels like it has come alive again,” said one.

“The High Rd is buzzing on market day,” said another.

82% respondents said they were more likely to visit Chiswick High Rd on a Sunday when there was a market.

The business survey endorsed the findings of their database, though not quite as wholeheartedly. More than 40% thought the markets were a good thing. 10% said they were not, but more than 80% said they would like to see a fourth market to take up the Sundays when currently there is no market.

Image above: Kathleen Mitra presenting the flower market’s data

Ideas for a fourth market included an artists’ market, or arts and crafts, vintage clothing, sustainability and eco-living, a street food market or the ‘best of W4’ from local businesses. Someone from the audience suggested ‘surprise’ markets like the new art works on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square.

I happened to be sitting by two local businessmen. Both said they were very happy the markets had increased Sunday trade. Stephen Foster, owner of Foster Books told me:

“I’d be very happy with that, there’s nothing there that scares me. The area does need sprucing up and the planting and drainage is good.

Martin Hanness, who owns the Old Cinema antiques shop said he was disappointed the plans were not more radical. “We should reduce the parking bays further or reduce the amount of time you can park there.”

Although on the face of it the antiques and vintage market brings in competition, he sees it as a bonus that it brings more people to Chiswick.

Image above: Luke Greysmith presenting his design

“We have never been consulted about any of this”

While the meeting was largely positive and receptive to the ideas presented, Trevor Bradley took exception to the idea that residents had been consulted, saying the flower market team could not count respondents to own their newsletter as a “residents’ survey” and suggesting they should have canvassed residents’ groups, several of whom were represented in the room.

Jackie Elton, representing Chiswick Common residents who lived opposite, said they had been impacted by the markets, finding it more difficult to park themselves and more difficult for their visitors to find spaces on market Sundays.

Anna Jackson, chair of Thornton & Mayfield residents’ association said she had asked her members and no one had a problem with the markets. She was one of several who said she would like to see more ambitious plans, getting rid of more of the parking spaces.

Tom Pike pointed out that the Columbia Rd market is much bigger and there is no parking available anywhere near it.

“I don’t think parking has to set the ceiling on what you can achieve” he said.

Cllr Ron Mushiso, who has been a regular volunteer at the flower markets through all the months when they needed marshals because of Covid restrictions, said he was delighted the markets have been such a success but added “we have to be prepared to listen to other points of view”, suggesting the community had to be more widely consulted.

Image above: Chiswick Flower Market; photograph Frank Noon

“Market Mc Market Place” anyone?

Cllr Gerald MacGregor also hailed the success of the markets:

“As a councillor I am delighted to see people in the community taking part and delighted to see the design work.”

But he pointed out it was illegal to put up a street sign saying ‘Old Market Place’ when there had been no formal application to name the area that. He suggested the sign be taken down and after proper consultation the name should go forward to planning to meet statutory requirements.

An over-enthusiastic member of the team had put the sign up, Karen told the meeting, naming no names. Meanwhile ‘Old Market Place’ is now recognised by Google.

The trouble with public consultation is that you do get some ludicrous results. The Polar Explorer Programme point blank refused to call their new boat ‘Boaty Mc Boatface’ – the democratic process notwithstanding.

Image above: Chiswick Police Station

More detail on redevelopment of the police station building

Also at the meeting was Honor Barratt, Chief Executive of Birchgrove homes, who was able to shed some light on how the police station site would be developed. The building would have to come down, she said, and be redeveloped from scratch as there was asbestos in the fabric and the ceilings were too high for repurposing as homes for older people.

Her clients, largely from Chiswick, would be among the first to volunteer for litter picking duties, she said, welcoming the new design plans. She described Birchgrove homes as “lefties, very happy to pay our taxes” and she said she would be delighted if the money they paid was spent locally.

They are planning to use the ground floor of the building as a community space which they would make available to the community entirely free, she told the meeting.

If you have feedback on the plans outlined or would like to see them in their full detail, view them on the Chiswick Flower Market website: chiswickflowermarket.com

The Chiswick Calendar’s editor Bridget Osborne was a founder director of the Chiswick Flower Market for the first year, helping to set it up and get it running, but stepped down from the directorship last year.

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