Following last night’s meeting of Ealing Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) which greenlighted the Labour-run council’s cabinet plans to build a large sports facility on Warren Farm, campaigners say they are “cautiously optimistic”.
During the meeting, it was confirmed by the council said that there would be a habitat survey of Warren Farm and the adjacent Imperial College site carried out before any final decision is made.
The evening saw more than 500 people including families with children attend a protest outside Ealing Town Hall before the committee met. Campaigners also revealed that over 19,000 people have signed a petition for Warren Farm be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows and are urging residents across the borough to continue writing to their local councillors to express their concerns over the site.
The OSC was called by the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Gary Malcolm. The committee, made up of backbench councillors, heard evidence from Ealing Council’s Deputy Leader, Deirdre Costigan, and from wildlife experts, London Natural History Society botanist, Dr Mark A Spencer and conservationist and founder of the Ealing Wildlife Group, Dr Sean McCormack.
During the meeting, Dr Spencer explained that several of Warren Farm’s plant species are at risk of extinction nationally. He produced a map showing the London-wide distribution of threatened plant species – the darker the dot, the greater the number of threatened species at that location.
According to experts, Warren Farm (the dark dot on the left of the map) is a highly important site for these plants.
The supportive crowd listened to speeches from campaign activists and from the two council opposition party leaders, Councillor Gary Malcolm, Liberal Democrats and Julian Gallant, Conservatives.
Two members of the London Assembly also spoke, Hina Bokhari, for the Liberal Democrats and Green Party deputy leader Zack Polanski.
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.”
Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party and member of the London Assembly told EALING.NEWS: “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.”
Katie Boyles, Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser said: “Of course, we are disappointed that the councillors did not reject the development proposal outright, knowing the irreversible environmental damage development would cause to Warren Farm Nature Reserve, but the fact that they called for a full habitat survey of both sites is a move in the right direction.
“The discussion at the meeting showed that at least some of the councillors have taken on board the evidence offered by our expert witnesses and were keen to find out more. The strength of feeling from our family-friendly demonstration outside no doubt helped to focus their minds too.”
Neil Reynolds, chair of Ealing Greens told EALING.NEWS: “The size of the protest last night will surely have focused minds on the weakness of the Labour cabinet’s case to de-wild the nature reserve at Warren Farm. The honesty from Councillor Dan Crawford that these proposals would seriously harm nature was refreshing. The evidence from the experts at the meeting was clear, these plans will exterminate rare species on the site. The proposals suggested by Councillor Driscoll are a step in the right direction. The question is will the council leadership, realise they are making a terrible mistake, and take heed of clear environmental evidence.”
A number of experts, wildlife organisations and charities have criticised Ealing Council’s decision and are supporting the Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign. These include: wildlife writer and conservationist Kabir Kaul, wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham, president of The Wildlife Trusts Liz Bonnin, London RSPB chief Andrew Peel, London Wildlife Trust policy director Matthew Frith, president of the RSPB and Vice President of the Wildlife Trusts Dr Amir Khan, zoologist conservationist and wildlife TV presenter Megan McCubbin, TV and Radio presenter naturalist and ornithologist Iolo Williams, TV presenter and founder of Ealing Wildlife Group, Dr Sean McCormack, and director of Rewilding Britain Alastair Driver.
Some of these supporters have also featured on a video produced by Ealing Wildlife Group asking Ealing Council to stop its planned action.
Ms Boyles added: “This is not over yet. Not by a long way. The council leadership will find it difficult to refuse the recommendation of a thorough habitat review and, at that point, we can bring our experts and our extensive evidence to the table in a manner where it will now have to be acknowledged. We are confident that we can ensure the council do not de-wild Warren Farm Nature Reserve, which, as our experts showed during the meeting, is one of London’s greatest ecological assets.
“National and London-wide policy is calling for Biodiversity Net Gain while Ealing Council’s development plan would mean Biodiversity Net Loss. This is what any decent, expert led independent habitat survey will show. Our campaign to safeguard Warren Farm Nature Reserve in its entirety continues.”
Speaking to EALING.NEWS, an Ealing Council spokesperson said: “The council is pleased to be in a position to make progress on this important project.”
The council also referred to a previous statement made by leader Councillor Peter Mason on January 27 2023 following the cabinet approval for plans to build a large sports facility on Warren Farm.
Councillor Mason said: “Our vision for Warren Farm is a win-win for the whole community. We have successfully negotiated with Imperial College, who own the field adjoining the site and they have agreed that the council can take over the lease of their land without payment.
“Imperial share our ambition for a local nature reserve and this agreement means that we’ve secured additional green space that allows us to rewild 62% of the expanded site. In repurposing and revamping the remainder of the site, we can also make decent sports facilities available for local people after more than 10 years.
“This decision is an important step in delivering our vision for Warren Farm, but it’s just the start. We will be making further announcements on our vision in the coming months and are continuing to work with local groups and community stakeholders as we work to make this a reality.”