A Site of Importance
The history of Gunnersbury Triangle Local Nature Reserve is tumultuous from the start.
The Triangle started out as a plot of land earmarked for development by British Rail back in the 1980s. However there was a Public Inquiry, which ruled in favour of nature in a city.
Thus Gunnersbury Triangle was designated as a nature reserve.
Since then, the Triangle has been officially recognised as a Local Nature Reserve. It was also handpicked by the Mayor of London’s office to become a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
It is literally a very important plot of land.
A Site Always Under Threat
Astoundingly, rather than being carefully looked after, threats to the Triangle’s very existence are never far away.
- Ongoing major developments at Chiswick Business Park.
- Flood lights on surrounding plots.
- Two big residential developments right on its border.
All this has already damaged The Triangle’s ability to provide safe habitat for local wildlife. Now a tiny scrap of land right next to the reserve has fallen prey to developers.
Species you can see at Gunnersbury Triangle
Take a look at the list of species that you can find in this sanctuary surrounded by tube lines. It is not difficult to see why it has been named as one of the most important nature reserves in Greater London.
Amphibians: Common toad, smooth newt, common frog
Birds: Green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap, sparrowhawk
Invertebrates: Speckled wood butterfly, orange tip butterfly, ivy bee, stag beetle, azure damselfly
Mammals: Hedgehog, field vole, wood mouse, pipistrelle bat, noctule bat
Plants: Hogweed, broom, ragwort, turkeytail bracket fungus
All the above means that the custodians of The Triangle should be treating it with the utmost care. Any doubts about this should be raised and discussed as a matter of priority.
Development at Gunnersbury Triangle Nature Reserve
A new five-story block of nine luxury flats is planned to be constructed on the scrapyard bordering the Gunnersbury Triangle Nature Reserve.
This may have caused concerns for the London Wildlife Trust (LWT), which manages the reserve and holds a portacabin at the entrance as their office space. However, any concerns have been assuaged by the promise of a brand-new permanent office facility that will be constructed alongside the block of flats. The London Wildlife Trust have therefore added their seal of approval to this venture.
LWT even go as far as being ‘very grateful to London Borough of Hounslow for their support in these new and exciting plans’ .
Of course this ‘support’ from Hounslow is deeply embedded in the desire to generate a lot of money from this development. Adding a visitors centre for the London Wildlife Trust is a small price to pay for the developer.
The Planning Meeting
Ealing Council’s Planning Committee met on Wednesday 16 January 2019. The development of the Gunnersbury Triangle scrapyard was the only item on the agenda. For the Committee to meet over just one proposal is apparently highly unusual, as local councillor Andrew Steed (Liberal Democrats) remarked.
Mr Steed, along with the designated objector (Marijn van de Geer of the Ealing Green Party and local resident), raised grave doubts as to whether these plans should be approved.
These doubts centred around:
• The impact that the construction of the tower block will have on the delicate biodiversity that is preserved at The Triangle. Although the London Wildlife Trust has dismissed the risk as ‘negligible’, they cannot guarantee this.
• The effects two other recently constructed developments on biodiversity in the area. There are no reports from “before and after” these developments were built. However, local residents and regular visitors say that the decline of wildlife in the nature reserve is clearly visible.
• An incomplete Planning Application. There is no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), no Environmental Statement (ES), no official EIA Screening Report, and no Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP).
• Inadequate publicity was given to these proposals from the start. Also the Planning Committee Meeting was announced just a week before it took place. This appears to be common practice for Ealing, and no good reason has ever been given.
Finally there are major problems with the document that forms the basis of the Planning decision.
The Planning Officer’s report
There are issues with the Planning Officer’s interpretation of Policy 7.19 of the London Plan .
Policy 7.19 of the Plan states the following:
‘On Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation development proposals should: give strong protection to sites of metropolitan importance for nature conservation (SMIs). These are sites jointly identified by the Mayor and boroughs as having strategic nature conservation importance’ (Biodiversity and access to nature, Section D).
The Planning Officer’s report ignores this.
Policy 7.19 goes on to state:
‘… when considering proposals that would affect directly, indirectly or cumulatively a site of recognised nature conservation interest, the following hierarchy will apply:
- Avoid adverse impact to the biodiversity interest
- Minimise impact and seek mitigation
- Only in exceptional cases where the benefits of the proposal clearly
outweigh the biodiversity impacts, seek appropriate compensation.’
(Biodiversity and access to nature, Section E).
An Inconvenient Point
The Planning Officer decided to ignore point 1 above, which is to avoid adverse impact to the biodiversity interest. The reality is, as this is a hierarchical list, he should never even have moved on to points 2 and 3.
Point 1 alone clearly demonstrates that the development should not go ahead. Otherwise the development would not be in line with the London Plan’s Biodiversity and access to nature.
The policies of the London Plan take precedent over anything else, because the site is of Metropolitan Importance. This means it is important not just for Ealing but for all of London. By approving the development, the Planning Committee goes against the Mayor’s biodiversity policy.
A proposal to defer the planning decision due to these many concerns was firmly rejected by all Labour councillors present.
An Asset of Local Value
There is another significant point to note. The proposal to designate Gunnersbury Triangle an “Asset of Local Value” will be considered in early February.
Many feel that the scrapyard development proposal appeared before the Planning Committee very abruptly, showing that there was a rush for the proposal to be approved. Was this to avoid the issue of an Asset of Local Value putting a spanner in the works for the developers?
Questions for London Wildlife Trust
So what have the London Wildlife Trust got to say about this? Obviously, it is great that they will get enhanced office and visitors space, but did they really need this development to take that desire forward?
It has been mentioned that £800,000 in Section 106 money has not yet been officially accounted for from the previous developments on the border of The Triangle. Why didn’t they push this point harder?
One of Labour’s councillors argued that the London Wildlife Trust’s open support for the development must be a deciding factor (“they would hardly support the destruction of their own nature reserve”). This ignores the fact that LWT is a tiny, overstretched, understaffed and underfunded charity with its back against the wall.
Whether they had much option other than to support this development remains to be seen.
A Concerning Lack of Concern
When it came to the vote to approve the proposal at the Planning Committee meeting, all 10 Labour councilors voted in favour. The Labour members of the planning committee evinced an air of detachment throughout the proceedings.
They were uninterested in biodiversity. They were uninterested in the other developments that had already adversely affected wildlife in the area. They were uninterested in the timing of this meeting and arguments for the decision to be deferred.
Labour had come in to do one thing: push this development through. And such is their power in local government that nothing was going to stop them.
Article by Marijn van de Geer and Jeremy Parker