One must seriously wonder these days, as democratic values quickly erode in this country. One would assume that the Labour-led council serves the interests of the constituents who helped them into this influential position in the first place. That’s naïve though, as witnessed on the 19th of October, the date for the Planning Committee meeting in Ealing Town Hall.
Not only was the public misled in believing that this is a meeting that can be attended by the public, but also that over 260 objections to the proposed development of Twyford Abbey would be taken into account by the Planning Committee. Well, you’ve been had in both cases.
It appears that the Council is fully aware of its unpopular development proposals in recent years – so what better way than position loads of security on the Town Hall steps? Is that with the intent to intimidate, or is the Council really afraid of the public it is meant to serve?
Wishing to oppose various ill-thought-out developments in Ealing borough we encountered three different residents’ groups who wanted to attend the meeting – only to be kept at bay by security long enough to then tell us that there’s no more space on the public viewing gallery for “us”. The seats were already taken by the developers’ representatives. Apparently, they knew how to circumvent security whilst the disillusioned public waited for nearly an hour outside with the promise to be allowed in at 7pm for the meeting start.
There’s an English proverb “good things come to those who wait”, well, not in this case. Only a handful of ‘the public’ was finally admitted to the meeting after the voices of discontent grew louder on the steps once we’ve learnt that ‘the suits’ filled the ranks.
Sure, it’s a lot more pleasant for the Planning Committee to encounter the pleasantries of a viewing gallery that nods in agreement with every illusive statement made, than inviting the upset public that burst the bubble of their inflated sense of “doing something good for the community”. That, however, is not what participative democracy looks like.
With over 260 objections and only 6 in favour for the proposed development of Twyford Abbey, every rational person would seriously reconsider. Not so the Planning Committee.
The Twyford Abbey site, located in Hanger Hill ward, is in public ownership on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and is awarded the same protection status as the Metropolitan Green Belt. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and London Plan policy G3 affords the strongest possible protection level to MOL/ Metropolitan Green Belt land to prevent urban sprawl. Paragraph 137 of the NPPF states “the government attaches great importance to Green Belts” – so why doesn’t the developer and by extension the Council? If this fact doesn’t sway the Planning Committee, maybe the fact that this land is also declared a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) with a blanket Tree Protection Order (TPO) will. The land is home to over 172 young, middle-age, and mature trees, tree groups, and hedgerows and constitutes a vital habitat as one of the last remaining green spaces in the already heavily overdeveloped area s in an area that is lacking in open green space.
Not being accessible to the public for several decades now, nature did what it’s supposed to do – it took over. The Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) from May 2021 confirms that several plant and animal species protected under Habitats Regulations 2010 are found on these grounds, and that those habitats for wildlife will be destroyed and lost, including death/injury of bats with high habitat value. That would consequently oblige the developer and the council need to seek a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence.
After already blissfully ignoring the protection status of MOL/ Metropolitan Green Belt land, SINC, and blanket TPO – what are the odds of that happening? “Ignorance is bliss” at least for the ill-informed Planning Committee that seems unaware of any of this.
Adding insult to injury, the proposed development would entail the removal of 157 individual trees and the removal and partial removal of 15 tree groups. The EcIA clearly states that planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats including aged or veteran trees and ancient woodland, as planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity. It found that priority habitat, protected under The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, short the NERC Act, in form of broad-leaved woodland is present and that the proposed development will result in the loss of it. Under the NERC Act, all public bodies to have regard to biodiversity conservation, commonly referred to as the ‘biodiversity duty’. Where is Ealing Council’s ‘biodiversity duty’ and the duty to its constituents to warrant and safeguard sustainable development, in line with not only national frameworks, Acts, Regulations, and Policies but also with its own Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy (CEES)?
On their own website, Ealing Council boasts “In 2021 we published our ambitious climate and ecological emergency strategy, setting out how we will work towards making Ealing carbon neutral by 2030.” “How so?” I ask, if none of the Planning Committee documents even refer to or consider the CEES when assessing planning applications? What is the worth of a strategy that’s not embedded into the core procedures and processes of one of the highest impact activities in the borough, namely development and construction? How likely will these 2021 CEES considerations be followed, and the Council be held accountable for? I guess you know the answer to that one…
The London Assembly are meeting on the 15th November, to email your representative a email about this with the key points please use this link