Locals sceptical of Rugby World Cup legacy
This autumn England will host one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year, the Rugby World Cup, and the borough of Richmond, and its surroundings are getting all revamped, or are they? Local residents and politicians voice their concerns.
The tournament will be played in 13 venues across England and Wales, but the focus will be on Twickenham, the home of English rugby, which will host ten games, including the semi-finals and the final.
Walking around the London Borough on the extraordinary final day of the Six Nations Championships the excitement was infectious. Who could argue with all those rugby fans who say"at its best, rugby is one of the most compelling spectator sports around?"
It may explain why rugby's popularity has grown in recent years. The Rugby World Cup organisers have sold virtually every ticket for the tournament, even for most of the smaller games.
Residents voice their concern
The RFU have also put in place ambitious legacy plans to grow the sport at grass roots level, something it didn't do after England won the World Cup in 2003.
So, it may come as a surprise to find that that many residents who live in Twickenham are not entirely happy about the World Cup coming to town.
Some residents are worried about the disruption the tournament will cause, especially before and after the evening games.
Common concerns include public drunkenness, fans urinating in public places, the risks of people being stranded, the congestion around the stadium and local railway stations: Whitton, Twickenham and Richmond).
The proposed road closures on the A316, which don't normally happen during rugby matches at Twickenham, has also not gone down well with many residents.
Locals have also started to seriously question the RFU's commitment to its neighbours.
Local facilities are left behind
Before the Six Nations tournament kicked off this year, a local councillor for Whitton, the closest ward to the stadium, raised these issues at the local Council meeting in January. Councillor Gareth Elliott focused on the legacy plans.
"The Rugby World cup is going to be a fantastic event and certainly there is a huge support locally for it. However, a world cup is built not only on its success on the field but also on the legacy thatit leaves behind," he said.
"My concerns are that while the sporting legacy is being built, the legacy for the community is less than it should be."
Councillor Elliott claims the legacy plans don't match those like in the Olympic Games, and while he is aware the event is not of the same scale, more can be done in his opinion, especially with the transport infrastructure.
And this is not the only sticking point. Local amenities such as Murray Park, the closest park to Twickenham stadium have been left out of its legacy plans.
Residents often point out that Murray Park has never received any investment from the RFU in over 100 years. It doesn't even have a set of rugby posts.The RFU’s commitment to its local community is long standing and includes a wide variety of initiatives. Parks and open spaces come under local authority control.”
The park itself looks a lot shabbier that some of the other parks in the Borough, which explains why residents recently decided to take matters into their own hands.
Friends of Murray Park was set up in 2014 in order to protect and preserve the park for future generations, according to the group's chairman, Nigel Hawken.
I met Nigel on a windy Sunday morning to look around the park. He showed us the children's playground, which has had some recent investment, but there are signs of neglect around the park.
From the entrance gates, we can see a fairly large low-rise, yellow brick building once used for functions and a nursery, but now looks like a derelict eyesore.
"The RFU have always been a positive neighbour to Whitton. In terms of Murray Park we have not had any specific support. Hopefully we can liaise and engage with the RFU to maybe make this hall the valuable community and sporting asset that it could be," said Nigel.
Surprisingly, the park was not included in the RFU's 'Posts for Parks' programme and Nigel hopes to change this and see Whitton Lions, the local rugby club, playing in the park one day.
"Murray Park does need money spent on it. It's a bit of a wasted space at the moment," said another resident.
The RFU and the Chelsea F.C. debate
A RFU spokesperson told the Sports Gazette their Community Relations Manager have held unofficial conversations with Councillor Elliott about Murray Park and its local development, but also stated that they cannot expand more about this matter specifically.
They said: “The RFU’s commitment to its local community is long standing and includes a wide variety of initiatives. Parks and open spaces come under local authority control.
“Nearly 300 secondary state schools have joined the schools programme and we have invested over £27.5 million on 340 different club projects including dressing rooms refurbishments and flood-light setup for clubs in Whitton, Teddington, Twickenham and Feltham.
"A large proportion of our staff are local and we are one of the area’s largest employers, with some 450 jobs based at the stadium.”
However, prior to the general election, former Twickenham MP, Vince Cable, told us that the legacy plans for the community are still 'modest'.
The RFU are contributing to the upgrade of Whitton railway station, but this is against a backdrop of growing local concern that they are about to strike a deal with Chelsea Football Club to host their home games for two years while Stamford Bridge is upgraded.
According to Cable, this would break a long standing agreement the RFU has with local residents that there would be no football played at Twickenham.
Cable said that he had spoken to the RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ritchie, directly about residents' concerns.
The RFU stated that there have been no negotiations with Chelsea FC, but the fact that Mr Ritchie has not publically ruled out a deal with Abramovich and Chelsea makes many local residents believe that the real legacy of the Rugby World Cup could be that Twickenham becomes a multi-purpose sports venue and that the match day disruption to their lives will only increase.