The new man in charge of the project to radically alter the heart of Brentford received a decidedly lukewarm reception when he met with locals and traders.

Joe Swindells is senior development manager for Irish developer Ballymore which two years ago submitted an ambitious scheme for a mix of 900 flats and assorted leisure and retail along the south side of the main High Street.

Since then locals have been painfully aware no further work has taken place, culminating in the final disappointment back in November when Hounslow Council’s planning committee announced Ballymore had requested to delay the project - supposedly while it worked on transport issues.

However, cracks had begun to show in the plan long before that when it emerged Ballymore had been hit hard by the economic downturn and lacked the necessary funding to carry matters forward.

Yesterday evening (Wednesday) Mr Swindells was invited to Brentford Dock’s Clubroom by Brentford Chamber of Commerce for a meeting hosted by its president Suzie Betlem to explain the delays and set out the plan for the future.

Those who attended were on one hand encouraged to hear Ballymore once more has the money to revive the project; but on the other were dismayed to learn it doesn’t intend to alter the design from the much-criticised plan it submitted to the council in 2012.

He also revealed if planning permission is granted work to start building the flats could start in the third or fourth quarter of 2015.

One of the first to launch a broadside in Mr Swindells' direction was Brentford ward councillor Mel Collins who told him: “We currently have around 12,250 people on our housing list who are crying out for new properties who won’t be able to afford this scheme.

“What saddens me most is that you will be losing a golden chance to have made a huge difference to a chunk of Brentford left derelict and forgotten for a long time.

“There is not one iota of hope and there is not one iota of evidence that the local economy of Brentford will benefit.

“I am inherently disappointed that you appear to have locked youself in a room with the plans for six months and come up with diddly squat zilch.

“We have been speaking to developers about Brentford since the early 90s and now you are here in 2014 telling us there is no strategy in place for retail, for leisure, for the waterside, so where on Earth are you?”

Also speaking out was Andrew Dakers, chairman of Brentford High Street Steering Group, who told the audience and Mr Swindells: “The plans on the table have left people very dissatisfied.

“The infrastructure of the town has struggled to keep up with the development we’ve had so far in Brentford.

“What leaves us staggered is that the look and feel and the atmosphere of the scheme is so lacking. It’s such a gap from what was talked about in the beginning.”

Image of how Ballymore imagines the section of Brentford High Street outside the Magistrates' Court could look
 

Mr Swindells, who was supported at times by Hounslow Council’s head of regeneration Brendon Walsh (although he also expressed his own dismay at the delays and certain aspects of the scheme), presented a calm and confident persona to the meeting.

He took on board many of the criticisms levelled his company’s way and constantly sought to reassure the audience that he fully understood their views and - contrary to accusations - was listening.

However, at times he did project a slightly mixed message as he first expressed his own doubts about the lack of detail concerning leisure and retail yet then went on to vigorously defend the plan as being ‘excellent’.

He said: “We (Ballymore) have not presented ourselves in the best of lights and we have not done anywhere near enough work.

“It’s now about us all working together to make it succesful. That’s really going to be the key part of the whole scheme, making the High Street an attractive place to come.

“It is my job to make this scheme attractive so that people will first want to come and live here and also want to spend money here.

“Why are they going to Chiswick at the moment? Because it is a lovely place to be. We have to make Brentford the same way.

“The lack of leisure and retail plans does scare me and I need to look at that very carefully in light of what everyone has said tonight.

“The plan that is in is very good for a very good scheme. There are certain items that can’t happen too early in the process (deciding on who will occupy the shops etc).

“We are not going to change what’s in the planning application, what is in there now is what is going to the council. There will be no fundamental redesign of the scheme.

“This is not the time to change things, if we do it will lead to another six-12 month delay, which we cannot afford.

“What people do have to realise is that to redevelop an area like this is eye-wateringly expensive.

“We want Brentford to be unique, to stand out from all other areas. It’s waterside area and docks already gives it an edge as they are real assets, it just needs to keep building on that.

“I don’t think I have ever worked on a development where there weren’t conflicting views. You can never please everybody because if you take everyone’s views on board then you will never get anywhere.

“We are working with three of the best firms of architects to design this scheme and we do want to do the best for Brentford.”