Ealing Council’s planning committee has rejected a proposed development of 599 homes and replacement sports and leisure facilities on the site of the Gurnell Leisure Centre in Greenford, with councillors branding the plans “monolithic” and “a monstrosity”.
Committee members voted 10-1 with two abstentions against proposals which included blocks ranging from six to 17 storeys by developers EcoWorld in partnership with Labour-run Ealing Council. Key reasons given for the refusal were over-development, the visual impact of the scheme and councillors feeling that the very special circumstances required for building on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) had not been not met.
The scheme has been undergoing public consultation since 2016, resulting in 1,893 representations being made, comprising 1,874 objections, 13 in support and one neutral.
In a lengthy question and answer session, councillors queried a wide range of issues including:
- The scale of development on Metropolitan Open Land, given that the London Plan has set out that MOL should have the same level of protection as Green Belt land.
- Whether the assessment of the scheme made it likely the applicant would at a later date seek to add more layers of housing in order to improve the project’s viability.
- The separation of London Affordable Rent and Shared Ownership housing into different blocks.
- The predicted life cycle of the new swimming pool, given as 30 to 40 years.
- Assurances about flood risk on the site.
Referring to a computer image of the development, Labour councillor Josh Blacker said, “The private blocks are just a monolithic slab in that view, which is clearly a massive detriment to the MOL”. Blacker also questioned whether the 34 per cent “affordable” housing proportion was sufficient.
His Labour colleague Ray Wall described the scheme as looking like “a warehouse with two chimneys plonked on top of it”. He added: “It’s our land and we are not getting enough social housing on it compared to what we did last week” – a reference to the committee approving redevelopment of former civic centre building, Perceval House.
Of the council’s approach to the “facilitating” development, whereby replacing the leisure centre is contingent on approving the housing scheme, Lauren Wall, also Labour, said “we feel a bit railroaded into this”.
Conservative Anthony Young recalled the approach the council took to creating the leisure centre in the late 1970s, when he was first elected. For this project a “sinking fund” – a form of savings scheme – was established to build up the cash. “We don’t have to build a monstrosity like this,” Young said.
The council’s case officer had argued that just 77 square metres of land currently undeveloped on the site, or 0.5 per cent, would be developed in the scheme, and that a 50 metre pool (one of only four in London) and high-quality leisure facility would be maintained for Ealing residents in the new development.
Local campaigners against the scheme expressed delight after the meeting: “Wow. We did it!” posted Louise Simmonds of the Save Gurnell group and thanked supporters. Simmonds later said that she hoped the decision shows locals that campaign groups “can be effective against controversial plans, whether that’s inappropriate overdevelopment or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”. She would like the existing leisure centre to reopen as soon as Covid restrictions are eased.
Ealing Civic Society’s acting chair Ann Chapman and former chair Robert Gurd said: “The reasons for refusal were comprehensive and well-considered, in particular in relation to development on MOL, one of the main concerns raised in our objections.”
Eric Leach of West Ealing Neighbours said the Save Gurnell campaigners had “brilliantly assembled the facts and arguments as well as producing impressive videos”. He described the outcome as “a vote against Ealing Council and its arms-length development company Broadway Living. This is a blow to [Ealing Council leader] Julian Bell: 10-1 is a rout. Councillors can detect a very strong groundswell against Labour in Ealing”.
But Ealing Civic Society is concerned about the future of swimming provision. “Deterioration in the building since the pool was prematurely closed a year ago (partly but not entirely Covid-related) will almost certainly mean that reopening would not now be feasible,” they said. “Apart from the fact that the refusal of this application throws any future proposals into doubt, the financial issues raised at the planning committee suggest that ‘viability’ arguments could well be used to suggest a new pool is unaffordable.”
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