Guest post by Emma Wallace, Green Party GLA candidate for Brent and Harrow
|The proposed development|
On the morning of Saturday 19th December 2020, a team of volunteers arrived at the Pavilion site, 265 The Ridgeway, adjacent to West Harrow Allotments with chainsaws and chopped down the trees and foliage in the green corridor running North of the site boundary. The group of volunteers behind this were Harrow Gospel Hall Trust, otherwise known as the Brethren, part of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. LINK
Whilst their website states that their values are “caring and respectful of others and we recognise the rights of all humanity within society”, the Brethren volunteers ignored requests from both Adam Swersky, West Harrow Councillor and Dave Corby, Community Engagement manager at Harrow Council, to stop. Adam Swersky has tweeted since that it’s the “Worst thing I’ve seen in 6 years as a cllr.” The tweet includes video of the destruction in progress. LINK
Indeed, the Brethren have shown contempt for the Council by removing the tree belt against their wishes.
The swift decimation of this tree belt green corridor by the Brethren on Saturday can perhaps be seen in response to a request from Harrow Council to carry out a second Ecological report of the biodiversity found here. The Brethren have instead damaged the wildlife potential of the Green Corridor and of the Pavilion site, hoping to push through their major planning application to build a seven-storey tower block, including 178 residential units on this site.
The land was originally sold to the Brethren over twenty years ago for limited use as a place of worship, under the terms of a covenant made with Harrow Council. The issue of the covenant was discussed at a Harrow Council meeting in the summer, where Harrow Council leader Cllr Graham Henson stated “it would not, at this stage, enforce a covenant at the site in The Ridgeway, West Harrow, that only permits non-residential use.” LINK
Both the Brethren and Harrow Council appear to not be honouring the original covenant agreement, with the Brethren looking to sell the land to property developers for huge financial gain, part of the 265 The Ridgeway development: LINK .
|Birds eye view of the site and its trees |
The Tree Belt and Tree Protection Orders (TPOs)
This is wanton destruction of part of an extensive wildlife corridor, one that links the green spaces of West Harrow allotments to the West Harrow Recreation Ground. It will also affect the wider Green Corridor that extends from Rayners Lane to West Harrow. The habitats here were a belt of young trees including Sycamore, Oak, Ash and Elm. A Tree Protection Order (TPO) had been requested by the West Harrow allotment holders on some of these trees, believing they had landscape value, contribute to the character of a conservation area and/or have historical importance. Unfortunately, Harrow Council’s TPO officer Rebecca Farrar visited the site independently in October and found that the trees were not of TPO value, because the individual trees did not constitute protection and that the tree belt was not visible from the highway or other public open space. Campaigners believe that the tree belt was TPO worthy because the allotments do include public open space and are accessible to the public, as a result of the footpath through it. For anyone walking through the allotment now, they will notice the loss of privacy, countryside and shelter belt effect that was afforded by the tree belt.
The tree belt had also hidden the Brethren’s prayer hall, which is now fully exposed
The allotments are now exposed
The Brethren had been asked by Harrow Council to carry out a revised ecological report to their 2018 one (see here LINK ). This was seen as necessary as the 2018 information is now out of date, and as Simon Braidman from Harrow Nature Conservation Forum has stated, the initial report was inadequate as it failed to identify any SINC (Site of Nature Conservation Importance) land was part of the Pavilion site. Whilst the SINC land, located to the West of the Pavilion site, was not destroyed on Saturday, the action carried by the Brethren provides no confidence in them preserving such an important and legally protected area of biodiversity.
The Wildlife and Biodiversity
A diverse range of native species have been found in this area, including seven different species of bat, which have been recorded in the vicinity. Other wildlife recorded foraging, nesting, breeding and travelling through this corridor, include:
- Badgers (a set had been previously, illegally blocked
- Song Thrush (red listed) were recorded from the trees destroyed
- Tawny Owl and Bullfinch recorded from the SINC land to the West of the site
- Slow Worm from both the allotment site and the SINC land on West Harrow Recreation Ground to the South of the Pavilion site
- Green woodpeckers, Starlings and House Sparrows
If this building goes ahead it will be an ecological disaster for the area and the neighbouring park. The threats to wildlife and habitat include:
- Increased light levels and lighting in public access from the resultant development to West Harrow Tube Station. Two bat species: Brown-Long Eared Bat and Daubenton’s Bat will be detrimentally affected in terms of foraging and transit from roost to feeding grounds – they will not cross brightly lit spaces and in the case of Brown Long-eared Bat, will not cross areas where there is no continuous or nearly continuous vegetation
- Any increased lighting will cause insect distribution disturbance from natural patterns. Bright reflective metal will mimic water under artificial light and insect with aquatic life stages will lay their eggs on the metal, thinking it is water.
- The high-density development will cast shade onto the gardens of the town houses and intruder lighting will disturb circadian patterns of amphibians. The increase in domestic animals will mean an increase in predation of birds, reptiles and small mammals.
- There is a threat of tree thinning directly to trees in the SINC land, reducing habitat for birds to forage and nest
- There will be a high possibility of increased flooding to the allotment plots. The area is a flood plain and the allotments already flood. Hard surface standing especially the town houses could increase flooding and make plots untenable.
- Most of all the threat is to the landscape and how the local people view the area. Anyone visiting the allotment will be aware of how beautiful and well set it is, providing great views to Harrow on the Hill and a place for people to relax, away from the pressures of the town.
Campaign against the development
West Harrow residents, West Harrow Allotment and Garden Association, Harrow in Leaf and Harrow Beekeepers have been campaigning against the proposed Ridgeway development since 2019, launching a Change.org petition, which has garnered nearly 3000 signatures: LINK . The local campaigners have been calling on Harrow Council’s Planning Group to reject the planning application submitted in April 2020 (view here: LINK ) , citing that the tower block is not in keeping with the local area, will have a detrimental impact on the local neighbourhood, park and allotments and also impact local infrastructure. Whilst a decision by the Council’s Planning Group has been delayed until early 2021, Harrow Council have not seemingly been supportive of local campaigners. Indeed, when Harrow Council were asked for comment after the act of wildlife vandalism on Saturday, their response was that Brethren were in their legal right: “Officers have looked into this matter and it is not considered that the developer has conducted any illegal or authorised activity.…Provided no harm is caused either directly or indirectly to protected sites, species or habitats nor works that would otherwise require a license or consent from the relevant authority undertaken without approval, a landowner is within their right to conduct such operations on their land as they choose, with the proviso that this does not amount to a change of use in planning terms nor cause nuisance to others.”
I am calling on Harrow Council to do the right thing and reject this short-sighted and hugely detrimental development in West Harrow. It is completely out-of-keeping with the rest of the low-level area and will have a negative impact on local wildlife, surrounding green spaces, local residents, as well as the roads and local infrastructure. Harrow Council must do all it can to preserve green spaces in borough, in line with its Climate Change Strategy, which states: “We will ensure that our natural environment is protected from and helps to protect us, from the adverse effects of climate change. We take care to preserve our community’s many green spaces and trees, and to protect its biodiversity.” Harrow Council must stand by their words. LINK
Please contact the local MP Gareth Thomas or the West Harrow councillors to express your concern about what is happening and request the rejection of the 285 The Ridgeway planning application:
Gareth Thomas email@example.com
West Harrow Councillor Kairul Kareema Marikar firstname.lastname@example.org
West Harrow Councillor Christine Robson email@example.com
West Harrow Councillor Adam Swersky firstname.lastname@example.org