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£45m development proposal for Gurnell but campaigners “very disappointed” over Ealing Council and leader Peter Mason engagement process

Ealing Council has revealed that its preferred redevelopment for Gurnell Leisure Centre will cost £45m and is also considering building between 200-300 flats. Campaigners are concerned with the impact it will have on metropolitan open land and the environment.

The date set to decide the fate of Gurnell Leisure Centre will be at a Cabinet meeting on 22 February 2023 which some members of the Gurnell Community Sounding Board are saying has come as a surprise and are “very disappointed that we have not seen the Council officer’s report and recommendations to Cabinet or had the opportunity to comment on them before the meeting.”

According to a spokesperson for member group Save Gurnell, they haven’t seen what these proposals are, nor feel their views have been properly considered and were anxiously waiting to see what was in the Cabinet report which was released on 14 February 2023.

In a statement, the Council said: “The current preferred initial option would cost an estimated £45million and would incorporate the land where the existing centre and its car park sit. The 2021 plans for the site that were rejected included a 17-storey tower but, in the preferred option, the tallest building will be up to a maximum of 10 storeys, with somewhere in the region of 200 to 300 homes in total. These early plans are still in development and will only be further progressed after detailed conversations with the Community Sounding Board and with residents.”

Councillor Peter Mason. leader of Ealing Council said compromises will need to be made. He said: “The previous proposals for Gurnell simply did not work, and were not good enough for Ealing. Since we took the decision to start from scratch, we’ve heard a broad range of opinions on Gurnell, both from last year’s big public engagement and from establishing the Gurnell Community Sounding Board. We are clear that there is a growing consensus that the future of the site has to include a brand new, state-of-the-art leisure facility with a 50m swimming pool, but without an extra rise in council tax to pay off the debt and high interest rates of unnecessary borrowing.”

He added: “So, we’re doing exactly what most residents who expressed their view suggested – we are proposing a mixed model where some of the cost of building a new centre is funded by also building new homes to either rent or sell at the site. As with all new housing developments in the borough, we will ensure that the scheme delivers at least 35% affordable homes, and every effort will be made to ensure the natural environment is protected and local biodiversity is retained and improved.

“We know that not everyone is going to agree. But we also know that we are all going to need to make some compromises if we are going to get the doors of a new Gurnell open soon.

But Save Gurnell are calling on residents across the borough to contact their Ward Councillors to protest and raise their concerns over the process.

As well as Save Gurnell, other members of the Sounding Board include Brent River & Canal Society, Gurnell Grove Residents’ Association, Ealing Matters, Draytons Community Association, Pitshanger Community Association and Stop the Towers.

The spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “The establishment of the Gurnell Sounding Board has been a welcome step forward and that the Council was willing to listen to local groups. It also aligned with Council Leader, Councillor Peter Mason’s statement in May 2021, which in relation to regeneration in Ealing he stated, “from now on communities will be in the driving seat when it comes to regeneration in Ealing”. Although we have now been engaged in the Gurnell proposals, there is a strong feeling that we are being driven to an outcome rather than being in the driving seat ourselves.”

The group has met four times with developers and council officers since May 2022 and taken part in a vision workshop.

The Save Gurnell spokesperson added: “We entered into this process in good faith and in the belief that the promise made by Councillor Peter Mason in May 2021 that ‘from now on communities will be in the driving seat when it comes to regeneration in Ealing’ was sincere. All the community groups on the Sounding Board have raised concerns about the plans we have been shown to date. So we are very disappointed that we have not seen the Council officer’s report and recommendations to Cabinet or had the opportunity to comment on them before the meeting. We will only know exactly what is being recommended around 15 February when the agenda and meeting papers will be made public.

Gurnell Leisure Centre - Options 1 and 2
Gurnell Leisure Centre – Options 1 and 2

‘What we can say is that the Council has dismissed the idea of refurbishment, and are looking at knocking down and re-building the leisure centre. The cost of their high-spec preferred design is around £40 million. This is substantially more than the Council has available for the project, so they want to fill the funding gap by building up to 500 housing units on the site as well. We have seen two different options for doing this, one building everything on the existing site and car park, and another that would re-locate the leisure centre to Long Field Meadow (a Grade II Site of Importance for Nature Conservation next to Stockdove Way) with the housing spanning not only the current car park, but also the footprint of the current leisure centre.

“The Council appears to have rejected the option for a ‘like for like’ replacement, which would cost around £28 million and might make the need for housing on the site redundant as they already have £12 million ringfenced for the project.”

Another concern of Save Gurnell is they say that the chair of the Gurnell Community Sounding Board, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, “has submitted his report to Cabinet despite concerns among all community group members that it does not accurately reflect their views. Members have produced their own report of the Sounding Board proceedings and submitted it for inclusion with the Cabinet papers.”

They added: “The reason the planning committee rejected the last application was because the leisure centre sits on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), which has the same level of protection as the Green Belt. According to national and London planning policy, that development was not only inappropriate, but also harmful to the MOL due to its scale, massing and design. It seems to us a huge waste of time and money to go through the process for a second time with proposals that have all the same problems. We are encouraging people to contact their Ward Councillors to protest.”

EALING.NEWS has contacted Ealing Council for a comment.

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