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Mayor of London challenged by Greens and Lib Dems over protection of Warren Farm

Politicians from the Green Party and Liberal Democrats have challenged Mayor of London Sadiq Khan over what protections he can offer skyparks and nature at Warren Farm following decision by Ealing Council to build a large sports facility on the land.

During Mayor’s Question Time yesterday (23 March 2023), the deputy leader of the Green Party and London Assembly member, Zack Polanski asked: “Campaigners for the retention of the full Warren Farm nature reserve have said that proposed development threatens a breeding ground that supports a quarter of London’s breeding skylark population.

“Skylark populations are in long-term decline, and they need wild space to protect their numbers. What protections do you offer to London’s skylark population in your planning and environment policies?”

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Hina Bokhar raised questions regarding rewilding and dewilding on Warren Farm.

In his response to the questions raised, Mayor Khan said:

“My understanding is that there are a number of sites across London where there are concerns around dewilding of sites that have become rewilded sites.

“The key thing is that where there are local plans, that they are in accordance with the London Plan and inspectors consider local plans and I am sure they will consider the representations made by the Assembly Member.

“All we have is one version of events, but what the process is, is that where there is a local plan it goes to an inspector, and if that local plan is not in accordance with the London Plan, the local plan doesn’t go through and we make representations to an inspector.

“So, my team will be looking at this local plan like it does all local plans to see if it is in accordance with the London Plan.

“If it isn’t, we’d make representations and we have done that in other parts of the city where there are Labour councils or other councils.

“I am sure the same will happen in this case.”

The questions came a month (21 February 2023) after Ealing Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee approved plans by Ealing Cabinet to develop a sports facility on Warren Farm.

Protestors out last month outside Ealing Town Hall

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: “A quarter of the London Skylarks are at Warren Farm. They will be destroyed by the proposals of Ealing Council. 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.”

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.

The map above is taken from Ealing Council’s cabinet report showing one of the suggested sports developments on Warren Farm
The map above is taken from Ealing Council’s cabinet report showing one of the suggested sports developments on Warren Farm

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.

Skylarks on Warren Farm
Skylarks on Warren Farm

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 20,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.

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