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Warren Farm campaigners warn Ealing Council and its leadership it faces reputational risk over plans to build sports facility

Campaigners for Warren Farm have written to Labour-run Ealing Council and its councillors warning them that if it continues with its plans to develop on the site, it could expose itself to reputational risk.

The Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign has written to all Ealing councillors including the majority Labour which is supporting the proposal as well as Ealing Liberal Democrats and Ealing Conservatives who have both opposed the plans.

The campaigners say the proposal to develop a sports facility on the meadow, which has had 14 years to rewild and is home to vulnerable species, runs counter to policies at national, London-wide and local level.

In the letter, seen by EALING.NEWS, Steven Toft, Warren Farm Nature Reserve Campaign Trustee writes:

“The proposed development would disregard the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP), which states that public authorities must “make sure developments leave habitats in a better state for wildlife than before”.

“It will not be possible for the development to achieve the “mandatory biodiversity net gain” of 10 percent being imposed by the government from November 2023.

“The proposals would also fall short of the GLA’s objectives as laid out in the London Plan and the London Environment Strategy, which also call for Biodiversity Net Gain and require new developments to include new wildlife habitats.

“The area of scheduled for development contains plants and animals on the Mayor’s Priority Species list. These will not survive the loss of suitable habitat at Warren Farm.

“The proposal also breaches Ealing Council’s own Climate and Emergency Strategy and Biodiversity Action Plan, which call for an increase in grassland habitat and states that any future development on Warren Farm must take the site’s red-listed Skylarks into account.

“The government’s Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP) states that public authorities must “make sure developments leave habitats in a better state for wildlife than before.”

“The report also cites “mandatory biodiversity net gain from November 2023 for most developments in England so new developments create 10% more biodiversity”. We have reviewed the council’s documentation relating to EIP, and other legislation, and believe that Ealing Council have not given full consideration to these requirements.

“We believe that it is not possible for the outlined development of a sports facility on Warren Farm to deliver 10% net gain. Any development on Warren Farm would not leave habitats in a better state for wildlife than before, nor would it be able to achieve any biodiversity net gain, let alone one of 10%.

“The proposals would also fall short of the GLAs objectives as laid out in the London Plan and the London Environment Strategy. The Mayor’s London Environment Strategy calls for Biodiversity Net Gain and requires new developments to include new wildlife habitats. The area of Warren Farm scheduled for development contains plants and animals on the Mayor’s Priority Species list. These will not survive the loss of suitable habitat at Warren Farm.”

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.

Conservationist and wildlife writer Kabir Kaul said: “It is utterly astonishing that the Council has chosen to ignore the views of environment experts and the majority of residents, and drive endangered Skylarks extinct in the borough. Above all, young people won’t be able to discover, appreciate and embrace this green space and its wildlife any longer. In an ecological crisis, Warren Farm Nature Reserve is instrumental in ensuring that local young people are exposed to the natural world, improving their mental health and wellbeing and facilitating a shift in attitudes towards urban nature. The Council have identified seven sites in Ealing which are more suitable for sports pitch development. There is still the time, and the opportunity, for the Council to do the right thing: to re-wild, not de-wild Warren Farm.”

Forensic botanist Dr Mark Spencer added: “London is in the midst of an extinction crisis, the city has already lost at least 180 plant species and many more are becoming rarer by the day. Warren Farm is an important refuge for declining plant species, particularly Copse Bindweed a plant that is nationally vulnerable to extinction and is critically endangered in London.”

Katie Boyles, Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS)Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser commented: “When the world is calling for rewilding, Ealing Council is dewilding. When national and London-wide policy is calling for Biodiversity Net Gain, Ealing Council is going for Biodiversity Net Loss. The council runs the risk of falling foul of these policies and of making itself look environmentally negligent and out-of-touch. Do they really want a reputation as ‘the dewilding capital of London?’ I’m sure that’s not what our councillors want and it’s most definitely not what our 18,500 petition supporters want either. Warren Farm Nature Reserve is a hugely important site for wildlife, please listen to the experts, it must be safeguarded in its entirety.”

The letter comes as residents in Southall are joining with campaigners and supporters of Warren Farm to stage a community protest on 21 February 2023 from 5.30pm to 7pm outside Ealing Town Hall against Labour-run Ealing Council and its leadership.

The cross community demo comes 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.

A poster was translated by Kanwaljit Dhaliwal into Punjabi. It is being distributed after Southall residents raised concerns over how their voice was not being listened regarding their concerns over Warren Farm.

The protest will take 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.

Local resident @ArjanSandhu0703 tweeted his concerns that locals are not being listened to when he replied to Greenford Broadway Councillor Varlene Alexander who is supporting the Council proposals for sports facilities on Warren Farm. “You’re committing ecocide so, if that id the case, then, why are Liebour planning to build a stadium, which won’t be used, on 40% of @WarrenFarmNR  , the residents are all against, this, and yet again, no form of evidence to prove your point.”

More than 18,000 have also now signed a petition for Warren Farm be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows.

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 the 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.

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, 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

“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 its 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.

In a previous statement, Ealing 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.”

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