More than 500 campaigners and supporters of Warren Farm have staged a community protest tonight (21 February 2023) outside Ealing Town Hall against Labour-run Ealing Council and its leadership over plans to re-develop Warren Farm.
The demo came after last month’s controversial decision by Ealing Council cabinet giving the go ahead to turn as much as half of the land into a large sports facility.
The protest took place before an Ealing Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which has been called by the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Gary Malcolm. The committee, made up of backbench councillors, has the power to refer the decision back to the council’s cabinet for further discussion and gives an opportunity for councillors to cancel or delay any decision of the proposed development on the re-wilded meadow habitat.
Councillor Malcom told EALING.NEWS: “The turnout is much more than anyone expected. Over 19,000 people signed the petition.This is bigger than LTN’s Ealing Labour needs to listen to the people. People who elect them as counsellors. They can put you in power and they can take you out of power very quickly. The council need to listen, reverse their plans for Warren Farm and protect Warren Farm.”
A decision from the scrutiny committee will be revealed later tonight.
Joining in with protestors, Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party and member of the London Assembly told EALING.NEWS: “I came a few years ago as well. I think this is a big thing about this issue is that it seems like it keeps coming back. And the people in Ealing I think are really clear. You can see the numbers who have come out today that they want that space to be green space. For mental health, wellbeing, biodiversity, somewhere to walk, somewhere to play, to exercise, all of the obvious reasons why we need green space in London.
“Every time the people of Ealing have said no and I think the council should get the message that actually it’s not that people are against sports facilities. There’s lots of places where sports resources could go, the council have identified at least seven places that they could investigate. And actually what is lacking in the borough or in London generally, is green space, and we’ve got to be serious about a green space, and rather than de-wild things we need to re-wild things and protect that green space.”
“I think there is a political element to this that this is Labour councillors who are not protecting green space. And it’s not good enough for Labour’s national leadership to talk about green issues, but then in council chambers to vote to destroy natural habitats.”
Neal Reynolds, chair of Ealing Greens said: “Tonight’s turnout shows the strength of feeling and feeling about Warren farm and how important the nature reserve is there. A quarter of the London Skylarks are at Warren Farm. They will be destroyed by the proposals of Ealing Council. I’m glad it’s been called in for scrutiny today. It’s not too late. This Labour council needs to change his mind and scrap these plans.
“It’s open season as far as this Labour Council is concerned, on metropolitan open land and greenbelt, it wants to de-designate it or downgrade it and build on it. This wasn’t something that was really properly discussed at the election. And you can hear right now how strongly people feel we need to protect our open spaces.”
Speaking to EALING.NEWS, Hina Bokhari, London Liberal Democrat Assembly Member said: “I’m here to be the voice of London, and I know that London is are against this, so that I will do everything I can to persuade the Mayor of London. Ealing Council are not listening, I think that’s the key for me. You know we are not against having development that’s good for the area and good for the community and what’s necessary, but you’ve got to make sure that you’re listening to your residents, making sure that whatever development you’re doing works for the area that you that you represent, and I don’t think Ealing Council has been doing that.”
More than 19,000 have also now signed a petition for Warren Farm be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows.
Chair of Ealing Greens, Neal Reynolds told EALING.NEWS: “The strength of feeling about the Labour council’s de-wilding plans will be made clear today. It is not too late. The council should change course and make Warren Farm a nature reserve now. All of it.”
Previously at the full cabinet meeting on 25 January 2023, all council cabinet members present supported the plans. One member, Genuinely affordable homes Councillor Lauren Wall was not at the meeting. The cabinet vote now paves the way for the council to launch a feasibility study for the provision of sports pitches and campaigners have said they will fight to save Warren Farm.
The council said at its cabinet meeting that one of the factors in its decision is in the interests of children in Southall. But a campaigning Southall group has hit back and says the council is misleading people and is not utilising sites more local to Southall residents than Warren Farm.
Angela Fonso, chair of the Clean Air For Southall and Hayes, explained why she will be supporting the protest: “What sickened me about the council’s cabinet meeting was the exploitation of children in Southall. For parents struggling to pay the bills, the last thing on their minds is to go to Warren Farm for sports. Within walking distance, we have sports facilities on Spencer Street and Southall Rec but these areas have been shamefully neglected. If the council is serious about reducing air pollution, surely it’s common sense that facilities should be on people’s doorsteps.”
Ms Fonso added: “We are fed up with councillors saying they know what people in Southall need when they persistently ignore what we say to them. We will be attending the Warren Farm Nature Reserve protest on 21st February and we are urging our supporters to come along. We wholly support the campaign to make all of Warren Farm a nature reserve. The council’s plan will de-wild the site. We need nature and we need space. This plan is total madness and it’s not what people want.”
Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, said: “Until now, we have not called any street demonstrations. We thought it only fair to give Ealing Council the benefit of the doubt to do the right thing after the conversations we have had with Leader, Peter Mason and Deputy Leader, Deirdre Costigan. We have shared with them expert evidence of why Warren Farm is such a unique and species-rich site and why our meadow, which has had 14 years to rewild, more than qualifies for full Local Nature Reserve designation. But sadly their decision to develop on half of Warren Farm, pushed through by cabinet councillors at a recent cabinet meeting, would be an irreversible act of environmental vandalism, so we now have no choice.”
Ms Boyles added: “This decision, if not thrown out, would destroy the breeding ground of a quarter of London’s Skylarks and see the extinction in London of Copse Bindweed, to name one plant species of importance growing here, with Warren Farm being the only site in London it grows. There is no such thing as losing just one species, it creates a domino effect of species loss. It’s absolutely vital, seeing as we live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and are in a Climate Emergency, that our wildlife is protected.
“We are therefore asking our supporters to show the councillors how they feel about this unique re-wilded meadow and to voice their opposition to the de-wilding of half of it. Everyone of all ages is welcome to come join us for a peaceful and family-friendly demo on 21 February, to lend their voice for the wildlife of Warren Farm Nature Reserve. If our Skylarks could protest, they would!”
BRCS Trustee Steven Toft added: “If the council is going to develop a site of such ecological importance it really needs to have a watertight case for doing so. This report did not make that case so it is only right that the decision should be challenged and subjected to scrutiny – which is what the Overview and Scrutiny panel is for. We will be bringing in experts to challenge this decision but we need to hear from everyone else too. If you don’t want this de-wilding plan to go ahead, please join us at the Town Hall.”
On 25 January 2023, following cabinet support, Ealing Council Leader Councillor Peter Mason tweeted: “Tonight, @EalingLabour agreed to move forward with our plans for a win-win at Warren Farm, where we’ll deliver both community sports & rewilding, to tackle the climate emergency & the huge health inequalities in our Borough.”
During a consultation period last year in which Ealing Council asked residents what do you like from Warren Farm, only 89 expressed interest in “opportunity to revive Southall FC”, while 1,001 said “Biodiversity and open/green space”.
Campaigners have warned that developing the rewilded wildflower meadow would leave Ealing’s only Skylark population with nowhere to breed and contradicts Ealing Council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan which confirms that Warren Farm is the only place in the borough suitable for Skylarks to nest.
Following the cabinet meeting, Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, Ms Boyles said at the time:
“We are dismayed by this decision. Ealing Council have chosen to destroy our wildflower meadow habitat that has had 14 years to rewild. A site with an astonishing array of vulnerable and rare species recorded thriving on it, verified by experts. The councillors who voted this through tonight have actively contributed to the extinction of Ealing’s only Skylarks.
“We can do so much better than this. We will continue our campaign, with support from conservationists and wildlife organisations such as Kabir Kaul, Mathew Frith and The London Wildlife Trust, Liz Bonnin and Chris Packham, the RSPB, Ealing Wildlife Group, London National Park City and so many more who can see the true value of Warren Farm NR for our wildlife and community.
The London head of the UK’s largest conservation charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has also spoken of the importance of Warren Farm Nature Reserve as a breeding space for rare birds.
In a statement of support for the Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign, Andrew Peel said that the endangered Skylarks were down to just 50 breeding pairs in London last year, meaning that Warren Farm’s 12 pairs account for a quarter of London’s entire Skylark population.
Mr Peel said: “As an Ealing resident, I know that Warren Farm is an important green space, both for nature, and as a space for renewing local people’s physical and mental health. The mixture of habitats (grassland, brownfield, scrub, mature trees etc) support a variety of wildlife, including a crucially important breeding population of Skylarks (down to just 50 pairs in London), and other declining species such as Linnets and Kestrels. It is also important for seasonal visitors such as Stonechats, and as a refuelling point for migrants such as Wheatear and Whinchat.”
He added: “Warren Farm is equally important as a place for local people to walk / dog walk / rest, and play. There is an increasingly large body of scientific research showing that regular access to green spaces is vital in creating and maintaining people’s physical and mental health. In the words of the African proverb ‘Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs’. Accessible green spaces are also vital for children’s development and play, affording great scope for interaction and imagination, as well as promoting their independence.”
Residents and community groups were shocked by the plans which they say are is “nothing to be proud of” by ignoring what people have told the council.
In a tweet to Councillor Mason, Dr Sean McCormack, founder and chair of Ealing Wildlife Group said: “A misleading, gaslighting disgrace. Nothing to be proud of. I’d like to ask a ‘democratic’ question. How does a Cabinet meeting work? Is everyone given a point to address? Does everyone have to tow the party line? I find it hard to believe you all had the exact same opinion!”
Dr Victoria Williams, (@vrw123) said in a tweet: “Why are Ealing Council so sure “young people” will be in favour of destroying Warren Farm? This is a generation that listens to Greta Thunberg…never have young people been so eco-aware.”
Residents and environmentalists have previously accused the council and its leader Councillor Peter Mason of “ecocide” and being “environmentally reckless” and “ecologically illiterate” with its plans which they say will destroy the environment including the loss of the borough’s only breeding Skylarks.
In a previous statement, the council said: “Warren Farm is Ealing’s largest outdoor sports ground, but it has been out of use for more than 10 years, and the changing rooms and the pavilions are dilapidated. The council remains committed to ensuring that new sports facilities are delivered for the benefit of local people, alongside its ambitious plans for the rewilding of much of the site.”
It added: “Should the plans be approved by cabinet, the council will launch a study for the provision of sports pitches on the remainder of the site not included in the boundaries of the proposed nature reserve. The council will make further announcements on its full strategy for delivering sports facilities following this completion. Ealing’s Sports Facility Strategy supports a need for additional sport facilities in the area.”
The campaign for Warren Farm to be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows continues. It already has over 19,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.