The Gurnell Project: Ealing Council is at it Again

A mock up of how the Gurnell Mega-Development will look

The Gurnell Leisure Centre, is situated on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and forms part of the Brent River Park. The bank of the river is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation of Borough Importance (SINC) Grade 1. Ealing Council have stated that the leisure centre is getting old and needs to be demolished and rebuilt. They have pledged to do so, and the project to make this happen is already at the proposal stage.

So far, so uncontroversial.

But now add not one, not two, not three… but SIX high rise blocks to accompany the new leisure centre. Six high rise flats that will tower over West Ealing – easily the highest buildings in the vicinity; high rise flats that will forever change the look of the neighbourhood, and trample on a green space SINC. The surrounding fields, playgrounds and residencies will be cast into permanent shadow.

Because of the scale of the proposed development, two approvals will be needed: from Ealing Council’s planning committee, and also from the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Mismanagement

The justification Ealing Council are using for this startling proposed change is that the money from the developers will be used to rebuild Gurnell Leisure Centre. But do they really have to approve such a dramatic development to raise the funds needed? And how much money are the developers paying towards the new leisure centre anyway? We are told that Ealing council are still ploughing at least £12.5 million into the cost of renewing Gurnell. And it is likely to be even more than that!

And it gets worse! The developers who were going to build the new leisure centre, as well as construct the two tower blocks that flank it (that is the left part of the development as you look at the mock up) have pulled out of this part of the project. That means at best Ealing will have to deal with two different developers going into one project. At worst the rebuild of the leisure centre, which is the reason all of this was happening in the first place, is at risk of being delayed or not going ahead at all!

It would have been so much easier for Ealing Council if they had just adhered to the concept of maintaining a “sinking fund”. That is, if they had put some money aside each year of the life of the Gurnell Leisure Centre in order to pay for future maintenance and refurbishments. However, they did not do this. And it has been this way over the last 30 years, during Labour and Conservative controlled local administrations. It goes on.

Irony

The two blocks that will be adjoining the new leisure centre (and currently have no developer to build them), will be the “affordable housing” part of the development in one block, and Shared Ownership in the other (the definition of “affordable” is still quite nebulous in London. Council houses? Forget it).

The other 4 high rises (that will go up to 17 storeys in height and comprise of 400 units for private sale) are to be constructed by a Malaysian developer. These will likely be marketed to, and snapped up by, foreign investors. And what is the name of this developer, you might be asking yourself?

Their name is EcoWorld.

Further Questions

The lack of concern by the current local administration for issues that have been raised by residents is again something that needs to be mentioned. Residents have been asked to leave scrutiny meetings when finances are to be discussed. Councillors have refused to answer questions during ward forum meetings. Labour candidates have even dodged the issue when they are out canvassing!

Surveys that have been issued asking the public questions about the proposed development have been criticised for the leading style of questioning they adopt. Questions are phrased in a way to make it appear as if the public are supporting this big development, though they might not be aware that they are doing this.

A sample from one of the questionnaires sent to local residents about the proposed development at Gurnell. Note the leading nature of the questions – they are asking “how important are the aspects of the scheme to you” rather than something like “are you happy with these aspects of the scheme”.

Finally, the design of the refurbished leisure centre itself has pressed ahead with very little consultation of what the public might actually want from their health space. As an example, the new exercise studios, including those used for yoga that could look out upon a panorama of fields and a river instead has a view of the main road!

In Conclusion

We see clashes between the residents and the council brewing all through the borough of Ealing. Whether it is in the controversial “Two Towers” development in West Ealing, the horrific plans for Warren Farm or the threat to an Asset of Local Value at Gunnersbury Triangle. It appears the wishes of the existing community are very much an afterthought in the minds of the council. And Green Spaces are very much things that are easy to compromise – for the right price.

And besides – what about the Climate Emergency?

What You Can Do

Article written by Jeremy Parker with assistance from Marijn van de Geer and Save Gurnell

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