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Ealing residents react to Ealing Council cabinet decision and leader’s announcement backing plans to develop large sports facility at Warren Farm

Following Ealing Council’s cabinet decision last night (25 January 2023) to back the council’s proposal to turn as much as half of Warren Farm land in Southall into a large sports facility, residents across Ealing have voiced their opinion on the decision.

The cabinet vote paves the way for the council to launch a feasibility study for the provision of sports pitches.

There have been deep concerns from campaigners who want to see Warren Farm in Southall be designated a local nature reserve. Prior to the cabinet meeting, Warren Farm Nature Reserve wrote to all 70 Ealing Council councillors telling them to oppose moves to turn as much as half of Warren Farm land in Southall into a large sports facility.

At the full cabinet meeting, all council cabinet members present supported the plans. One member, Genuinely affordable homes Councillor Lauren Wall was not at the meeting.

Announcing the 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.”

A link to an Ealing Labour posting was also given. In which, Councillor Mason said: I’m delighted to say that this week, after a wide-reaching consultation process with residents and community stakeholders and a detailed study of community sports need across the borough, we have been able to move ahead with our vision for Warren Farm.”

He added: “Our plans for rewilding the majority of Warren Farm are certainly ambitious, and we believe that within our ambition there is room for compromise that also delivers community sports facilities for local people.”

Following the cabinet meeting, Katie Boyles, Warren Farm Nature Reserve , campaign organiser and Brent River & Canal Society trustee, said:

“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.

“Since the council published its plans a week ago, 2,000 more people have signed our petition. We now have 15,400 petition supporters. Our campaign is gathering momentum. We will continue to urge the council to give Local Nature Reserve status to the whole of Warren Farm.”

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.”

Felix Lowe, (@saddleblaze) tweeted: “Shame on you, Peter. Besides building on a nature reserve, stalling on bike hangers, failing to deliver protected bike lanes & giving cars free reign on residential streets across Ealing, what exactly are your self-proclaimed “huge ambitions on tacking the climate emergency”?

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.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm, Leader of the Opposition, said: “Liberal Democrats have called for the whole of Warren Farm to be designated as a local Nature Reserve. We are very concerned that the options in the Council report mean that around half of Warren Farm will be lost, meaning a significant loss of biodiversity and publicly accessible open space.”

Councillor Athena Zissimos, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Environment added: “Ealing Council needs to decide between skylarks and cricket and they cannot have both in the same space and they are fooling themselves if they think they can. We will continue to fight to save Warren Farm and the wildlife contained on the land.”

In a tweet response to Councillor Mason , Alex Crane (@AlexCrane33) said: “Now don’t let this get mired in endless consultation and listening exercises like with Gurnell leisure centre. Get on and deliver the sport and leisure facilities this borough needs, at pace”.

Ealing Green party chair Neil Reynolds told EALING.NEWS: “Tonight’s meeting was a depressing illustration of the Labour administration’s lack of commitment to the environment. These worryingly vague plans, constitute an attack on nature.”

Mark Eccleston (@MarkEccleston1) on Twitter said: “horrible and divisive debate tonight pitching a them vs us narrative… if you want to protect nature it logically follows you want to hold back poor kids – a cheap slur to distract from what’s going on. This is a slo-mo heist of an irreplaceable habitat. Lose lose 💔”

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.”

Skylarks on Warren Farm
Skylarks on Warren Farm

 

Prior to the cabinet meeting,  Dr Sean McCormack, founder and chair of Ealing Wildlife Group expressed his concerns

“Imperial College land is currently a trashed, horse grazed paddock next door to Warren Farm. The Council can only get away with calling this entire scheme ‘rewilding’ because they are going to allow this single paddock to rewild. It will take 10-15 years. Many species will be lost in that time. Meanwhile Warren Farm itself has been rewilding for well over a decade and is now an incredibly precious ecosystem as a result of that time for nature to recover. Destroying half of Warren Farm for soccer pitches nobody needs and cricket pitches that could be placed elsewhere is not acceptable in a climate and biodiversity crisis.

”Imperial College are being used as pawns in this flagrant ‘up yours’ to the Council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan and as tokenistic mitigation. It’s like chopping up ancient woodland with 500 year Oak trees and saying you’ll plant the same number of Oak saplings in their place. It’s simply not acceptable and makes no sense when we have alternatives available. Biodiversity value comes with scale, intactness and age. It’s also not a good look for an organisation like Imperial hoping to boost their green credentials so I would strongly advise their legal and PR team take a closer look at how this will impact their reputation.

“Council leaders are quite incredibly pushing through a plan which has been vocally opposed by the majority of respondents in their public consultation, over 15,000 respondents to the Warren Farm Nature Reserve petition, our 5,500 members of Ealing Wildlife Group and most worryingly they’ve shown they don’t have a clue about very basic ecological principles. Nor it seems will they listen to experts or evidence on the matter. It begs the question why they are stubbornly proceeding with a plan that virtually everyone but them objects to? Is there an ulterior motive? How is it acceptable to ignore and silence objection on this, and then brazenly state it’s democratic. It boggles the mind.

“I’m all for social justice and new sports facilities for children and communities in need, but in appropriate locations that don’t destroy incredibly complex ecosystems and rare species. Ones that cannot exist elsewhere and cannot survive on the crumbs left behind when this Council barges its plans through effectively halving the space for Skylarks, Barn Owls, rare plants, Slow Worms, Bats and the people that want to enjoy Warren Farm as it is. Fact is they won’t survive. A vital urban oasis needs protection. Chipping away bit by bit at these last refuges are why we are one of the most nature depleted countries in the world!

“There is still a chance to halt these plans and start from scratch with a solution that favours sports for children and saves our last Skylarks and all the other species that rely on this land. I challenge Cllrs voting tonight to vote no and let’s start discussions together from scratch, respectively and collaboratively. Let’s bring children from Southall schools to Warren Farm together and teach them about the unique wildlife that lives there. And let’s ask them if they’d like cricket and football pitches to be installed there or one of the 7 other sites earmarked as suitable in the Council’s sports review last July. One of the seven sites that are wholly more suitable and won’t destroy the precious little urban nature we have left.“

Ms Boyles previously said: 

“It’s frankly speaking, environmentally reckless and it is fantastic that so many environmental campaigners are supporting us. The fact that Warren Farm hosts a quarter of London’s Skylark breeding pairs should be seen as a biodiversity badge of honour by Ealing Council. Instead, it is putting forward a development proposal that will destroy their habitat and see our only Skylarks disappear from the Borough of Ealing if given the go ahead on Weds 25th January. As the council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan states, nowhere else in the borough has the wide open space and abundance of food to enable our skylarks to nest and breed.”

Ms Boyles added: “Future generations deserve to grow-up hearing this bird’s iconic song and to benefit from this already rewilded, unique green space on their doorstep. We strongly advise the council to adhere to the results of their own Public Consultation and give all of Warren Farm, Nature Reserve designation. To do otherwise would show the council to be selectively democratic and environmentally backwards. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”

Local residents have also spoken out when EALING.NEWS visited Warren Farm last Sunday (22 January 2023).

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Jane from Acton who was walking her two dogs. “This is such a beautiful place. I first started coming here when I lived nearby and even now I come. It’s such a unique place in West London.  It’s quiet, it’s tranquil and is the perfect place for me time. But if there was a sports ground here, it will totally destroy all of that.”

Another walker with a dog was Beth who said: “I grew up in the country and when I came to London, it was so wonderful to have Warren Farm. Throughout Covid, being able to walk freely around here really helped and if it’s future is under threat, that is really shocking.  A sports facility will ruin everything for the wildlife here, for people coming and getting pleasure and enjoyment from walking and there surely are other places where it would be more suitable.”

With his two children, James said Warren Farm has been one of the few places he can take his son and daughter to and show them nature in the wild. “This is nature. What is here should be left alone and as nature intended. It is so amazing seeing so many birds and wildlife here. My children learn so much about nature and teach me about what they see. I never had this when I grew up and it’s such a benefit to have this here for all.”

Taking his Sunday run, James from Hanwell said he loves his runs. “Why do they want to change something that so many people from the area benefit from. It’s open and so amazing to run and hear the birds. It’s one of my favourite places to run.”

For many years,  Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaigners have highlighted the council plans to designate five of Hanwell’s Meadows as Local Nature Reserve, as put forward in the Brent River & Canal Society’s vision to create and protect a Wildlife Corridor, but the council’s proposal only includes half of rewilded Warren Farm.

They also say that even though Warren Farm has recorded rare species, the council plans to develop the rest of the site as a sports facility.

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

Campaigners also highlighted that developing sport facilities counters Ealing Council’s own Climate and Ecological Strategy. In a statement, they said it “would be counter-productive given the current Climate Emergency and the council’s biodiversity commitments.”

In a tweet on 18 January 2023, Ealing Council leader, Councillor Peter Mason said: “In May @EalingLabour set out our ambitions for Warren Farm, to provide both a much needed sports facility, as well as London’s largest project to re-wild and re-grow a key part of Southall and Hanwell. Now, we’re getting on with the job.”

Councillor Mason followed up by tweeting on 20 January 2023: “ICYMI, we’re moving ahead this week with our plans for Warren Farm.Plans that were democratically endorsed last May. Plans for a compromise to get the best of community sports facilities and London’s largest re-wilding project.”

But residents and community groups were shocked by the plans which they say are “undermining democracy” by ignoring what people have told the council.

BRCS Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign officer, Steven Toft commented: “We deduced, from comments by the council leader and deputy leader in August last year, that the proposal would look something like this and now our fears have been confirmed.

“The council talks about its biodiversity and re-wilding ambitions. Starting the new Local Plan with biodiversity loss and de-wilding seems an odd way of going about it.”

In a 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.”

The Brent River & Canal Society and the Warren Farm Nature Reserve group are asking their supporters to take part in the Local Plan consultation and oppose the development of a sports facility on Warren Farm.

They have highlighted the following grounds as reasons to state opposition:

  • Significant loss of biodiversity (as acknowledged in the Local Plan’s Site Selection Report)
  • Loss of publicly accessible green space (as acknowledged in the Local Plan’s Site Selection Report)
  • Loss of habitats for endangered species
  • Loss of the borough’s only breeding Skylarks (as acknowledged in the council’s Biodiversity Action Plan)
  • The development would be at odds with Ealing Council’s own Climate and Ecological Strategy and would be counter-productive given the current Climate Emergency and the council’s biodiversity commitments.

Residents have until 8 February 2023 to make comments on the Local Plan and can respond by email to: localplan@ealing.gov.uk

The campaign for Warren Farm to be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows continues. It already has 15,400 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.

Are you an Ealing resident with a story to share? Or spotted something we should know about?
Get in touch with us by emailing: news@ealing.news or tweet us on Twitter @_EalingNews

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