A new video has been released, telling the story of the Gasworks scandal through the eyes of the residents that live in Southall.
Former Green Party candidate Meena Hans, who commissioned the video, says “The people of Southall are currently facing a grave social injustice.
“For the past three years, they have been breathing in a toxic mixture. This includes arsenic, benzene, naphthalene and many other known carcinogenics. People in the area have been becoming ill with very similar symptoms, including an increase in cancer.
“The toxic air has been caused by the development of the old gasworks site (Southall Waterside) by Berkeley Group. Boris Johnson approved the development when he was the Mayor of London.
“The residents have not been supported by their local representatives. They have not been supported by Ealing Council or by their MP. But here we have given some of the residents affected a chance to tell their stories.
“Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and not be poisoned in their own homes and streets.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
Ealing Council is proposing to make cuts of ￡1.14million. This means it will ceasing to manage Greenford, Hanwell, Perivale, Northfields, Pisthanger, West Ealing and Wood End libraries. Unless local groups come forward to manage these libraries, they will close.
Ealing Council’s Solution
The Council expects local groups volunteering to run the libraries to provide ‘community offers’ such as story times for children, opening for a specified number of hours and doing an enormous amount of fundraising. The consultation suggests local groups would need to raise around ￡15k – ￡30k per year to meet annual running costs, though the exact figures are unclear.
Ealing Green Party is concerned this is not feasible and libraries will close. Libraries provide a safe space for children and adults to read and study. They offer free access to computers and the internet which is critical now that even many public services are ‘digital by default’. They also draw people to local town centres which benefits the shops, cafes and other businesses in the area.
What you can do
The Ealing Green Party is opposing the cuts and would urge you to do the same by:
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.
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.
While other councils, including Hillingdon, Richmond and Hammersmith & Fulham are strongly and publicly opposed to a third runway, Ealing’s Labour council has always been equivocal. Council leader Julian Bell has said, when pushed, that Ealing does not support a third runway.
But there has been no clear public opposition.
Motion to Oppose
Because Ealing seemed to be sitting on the fence, the Conservative group tabled a motion at the full council meeting on 18th Dec:
“This Council states that it is opposed to a third runway at Heathrow Airport. This Council therefore pledges to support those organisations and local authorities who are taking legal action against the plans to expand Heathrow Airport.”
The motion was supported by the LibDems.
Prior to the debate on this motion, a member of Ealing Green Party was allowed to ask a ‘public question’. He asked the question on Heathrow expansion and climate change, referring to the extra £2.9m tonnes of CO2 pa that would be emitted. This was referred to by the Conservatives and LibDems.
The Labour response was, broadly: * This is a national government decision and therefore there is little that Ealing can do. * With severe cash constraints the council cannot justify spending money opposing it. * Ealing seeks to get the maximum compensation/mitigation
There were a couple of speeches from Southall Labour cllrs supporting expansion. This included one from Cllr Rajinder Mann which, as pointed out from the public gallery by said Green Party member, sounded like a script provided by Heathrow.
We know it was because it quoted economic benefits from Heathrow’s propaganda, which is completely at variance with the official government estimates.
The Art of the Compromise
When it looked as if the motion would be voted down, the Conservatives adroitly amended the motion to the first part only:
“This Council states that it is opposed to a third runway at Heathrow Airport.”