"There's a lot more to be done"-Twickenham MP candidates on St. Mary's expansion
St. Mary’s proposed expansion plans came under scrutiny as the university played host to the first of seven hustings between the parliamentary candidates for Twickenham.
Conservative incumbent Dr. Tania Mathias, defending the seat she won in 2015, was joined by Liberal Democrat candidate Sir Vince Cable, the man she ousted after holding the seat for 18 years previously, and Labour’s Dr. Katherine Dunne.
Inevitably, the focus for the evening shifted towards education, with students grilling the candidates on subjects such as tuition fees and student loans. However, it was the subject of St. Mary’s expansion plans which drew most attention.
The proposed building plans have attracted dissent from local residents, who are concerned about the impact expansion would have on the area.
Dr. Mathias said: “You’re rightly proud of your university, but the sadness with this ambitious plan is the response of local residents. I have been surprised at the hostility in the neighbourhood, because I am impressed by [the university].
“There’s a lot more to be done with this consultation, a lot more bridges.”‘Vision 2025’ encompasses £100m of investment, and would see the number of students at St. Mary’s increase by 50%, from 6,000 to 9,000.”
The building work, put forward within a masterplan called ‘Vision 2025’, would see new accommodation blocks built over the university’s iconic, newly christened ‘Sir Mo Farah Athletics Track’, which would move to the Teddington Lock site.
The new accommodation blocks would also have to be built on Metropolitan Open Land, London sites which are afforded a high level of protection from development.
‘Vision 2025’ encompasses £100m of investment, and would see the number of students at St. Mary’s increase by 50%, from 6,000 to 9,000.
This has led to concerns from local residents about traffic and noise pollution, with many having some choice words about the behaviour of students.
Sir Vince said: “I think the university quite rightly wants to create facilities so that students can get decent accommodation nearby. I think it’s absolutely right they want to accommodate postgrads because that’s what raises teaching and research standards.
“But there is a problem with the plan as it currently stands, which almost certainly goes contrary to the basic planning requirements of the local area. The plan will almost certainly have to be modified to take account of residents concerns.”
Dr. Dunne added: “I don’t think people are necessarily seeing eye-to-eye yet and I was also shocked to hear some of the comments and some of the things that have been said about students.”
The University have held two drop-in sessions for residents to voice their concerns, both of which were well-attended.
The Neighbours of St. Mary’s University residents group, set up in opposition to ‘Vision 2025’, claim that after the building of the new Sports Hall the university agreed that they would not request to build on the remaining Metropolitan Open Land, a pledge that has now been broken less than 10 years on.
They also state that they believe the council has already made the decision to allow St. Mary’s to build over the running track.
Dr. Mathias recognised the importance of resolving the issue as soon as possible: “There’s a lot of work to be done, and it would be on the MP’s June 9 list: you have to build bridges, now.”