Ealing Council Accused of Warren Farm 'Cover Up'

2018 report recommending extra protection for area not published

Katie Boyles, Councillor Gary Malcolm and Steve Toft with 2018 Ealing Council report


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June 7, 2023

Ealing Council has been accused of failing to reveal crucial information about one of its borough’s most important green spaces after approving plans to develop the land. Warren Farm is under threat of being ‘de-wilded’ under current council plans despite one of its own reports saying it should be protected.

The findings of the report were only revealed after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was filed to release its contents which shows the council had recommended the nature reserve to be designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). In the unpublished ecology consultants’ report, which was based on a survey from 2017, Warren Farm was recommended to become an area with SINC status which are defined by the Mayor of London’s London plan as: “Areas of land chosen to represent the best wildlife habitats in London and areas of land where people can experience nature close to where they live and work.”

Damage to the green space, which is home to over 20 endangered or significant species, would mean “a significant loss to the borough”. The revelation has validated concerns by many residents who have opposed Ealing Council’s plans to develop the land.

Plans to turn half of the  nature reserve into a sports facility were approved in January and 21,000 people have signed a petition to give the entire area protected status. The report was brought to light after Liberal Democrat Leader of the opposition, councillor Gary Malcolm put in an FOI request to the council and received a redacted copy.

Experts say that a council should release a SINC report every 10 years as part of best practice, but the last one completed by Ealing Council was in 2007. The 2017 update of the document was never released with representatives of Warren Farm questioning why there has been a 6-year delay and why an FOI request was necessary for the contents of it to be published.

The 2017 SINC report’s recommendation was made during the period when Ealing Council was negotiating the long-term leasing of Warren Farm to Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club (QPR), for development as a new training ground however plans fell through in 2020.

Campaigners have added that since the report was conducted the area has seen an increase in biodiversity and is it even more important to preserve than it was in 2017.

Commenting on the report, Katie Boyles, BRCS Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser said, “We are not at all surprised by the findings of this SINC report that recommends our green space as a vital site of importance for nature conservation. It’s obvious to anyone who visits how amazing our meadow is and that it is bursting with wildlife. Indeed, we would go further than the SINC report.

“We believe Warren Farm Nature Reserve is of London-wide and national importance. Since this survey was done in 2017, our grassland and wildflower meadow has further re-wilded and it contains one of the richest collections of rare and endangered species in the capital. The site is home to Ealing’s only Skylarks, making up a quarter of London’s breeding population and London’s only recently recorded site for the nationally endangered Copse Bindweed. If the council’s development plans were to go ahead, this plant would become extinct in London.

“What is less clear is why Ealing Council has sat on this information for so long and why it took a freedom of information request to get to the truth. Withholding important environmental information from Ealing residents, whilst simultaneously planning to de-wild Warren Farm Nature Reserve, is hugely disappointing behaviour. This is not what we would expect from a council that claims to care about the environment. Warren Farm Nature Reserve deserves to be acknowledged and protected for future generations. We encourage Ealing Council to be open and transparent and to uphold the recommendations made in their own SINC review rather than ignoring them.”

London Natural History Society forensic botanist Dr Mark A Spencer added,: “The 2017 surveys, commissioned by Ealing Council, recognise that Warren Farm sits within a larger ecologically valuable landscape and that it should be protected. Our more recent work has demonstrated that the site contains nationally and regionally endangered species, many of which are considered priorities for conservation by the GLA. Despite knowing that we have undertaken further surveys, Ealing Council have failed to recognise the existence of our findings. In essence, they have rammed their fingers in their ears and shouted ‘la, la, la’ in the hope that the information will go away. It won’t!”

Councillor Gary Malcolm, who made the FOI request in the first place, said: “Liberal Democrats and Warren Farm users say that if Ealing Council’s development plans for Warren Farm go ahead, endangered species will become extinct. It is also a scandal that Ealing Council has held onto this information for many years whilst planning to de-wild Warren Farm Nature Reserve. If its own report says that Warren Farm should be protected, then it should drop its plans for Warren Farm NOW. Liberal Democrats and the tens of thousands of angry residents in Ealing will continue to fight to protect Warren Farm.”

Campaigners are calling for the council to:

  • Complete the SINC review
  • Rewrite the Local Plan to incorporate the information in the SINC review
  • Halt the development plans for Warren Farm until a full Phase 1 Habitat Survey has been carried out, using the London Open Spaces Survey methodology.

Cllr Deirdre Costigan, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for climate action said, “As part of Ealing Council’s plans to declare almost two thirds of Warren Farm Playing Fields as a local nature reserve and the remaining third for cricket and football pitches, we agreed to undertake an ecological survey of the site and this is currently being commissioned. When this is complete we will review the results and take this into account in the next stage of our plans for Warren Farm. 

“Although there have been previous SINC reports, these are now out of date and a full survey of all the boroughs SINCs is almost complete, ready for publication by the end of September. That SINC survey will be used as evidence to build on our emerging Local Plan.”

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