I was stunned to discover that Boris Johnson plans to concrete over an area of outstanding natural importance in west London. And even more shocked that his new consultation document makes only a cursory reference to the wildlife haven he wants to flatten.
The London Mayor’s determination to destroy Scrubs Wood, north of Shepherds Bush in west London, flies in the face of decades of studies into the area’s extraordinary ecological importance. This green haven is also a vital educational resource for school children.
Transport for London plan to squeeze 19,000 new properties on the Old Oak site, including the whole of Scrubs Wood and across the adjoining industrial estate which is dissected by the Grand Union Canal. The TfL consultation document brands the land “derelict semi-industrial” but, in the case of ‘The Scrubs’, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘Urban Birder’ David Lindo, star of TV birdwatching programmes, has proven the area is a magnet for migrating birds including Pied Flycatcher; Dartford and Wood Warblers; Honey Buzzard; Richard’s, Rock and Tree Pipits; Osprey; Marsh Harrier; Turtle Dove; Long and Short-Eared Owls; Black Redstart; Great Grey Shrike; Nightingale; and Ortolan Bunting to name but a few.
Scrubs Wood is also an important site for Common Lizards and over 20 species of butterfly including Skippers. It is a favourite for breeding Lesser Whitethroats, has often seen breeding Skylarks, and attracts wintering Redpolls and Siskins.
I used to birdwatch there myself during my youth and recorded many rare species. In 1985, as a 15-year-old, I led an ultimately successful campaign to save the land from destruction, defeating a British Rail plan to build Channel Tunnel train-cleaning depots on it.
The ecological importance of Scrubs Wood, documented in several studies, proved instrumental in saving over two-thirds of the site. The landowners BR (as then was) also stumped up cash to protect wildlife including landscaping a raised screen known as “Lester’s Embankment”.
The campaign attracted significant national media coverage at the time and resulted in me being voted Best of British Youth by Radio 4 Today listeners as well as inspiring an English National Opera and a folk record.
More importantly, the outstanding natural importance of the site was fully accepted by a House of Lords committee into the Channel Tunnel Bill, and it is no less important today. In fact careful wildlife management over the past two decades has probably enhanced its natural value.
With this in mind it is extraordinary that Boris Johnson and TfL should publish a document proposing the complete destruction of the whole site.
The document states: “Wormwood Scrubs is a huge asset to local people and wildlife, providing natural habitats, informal recreation and formal playing fields for local schools and community groups”, yet is proposing to demolish the very wildlife and natural habitats they refer to.
This shameless disregard for the environmental value – which has been acknowledged by various agencies from CPRE to the London Wildlife Trust – is grossly insulting the intelligence of every local person who has ever visited the area. Does Boris honestly think local people simply won’t notice part of his plans include bulldozing this wildlife sanctuary?
The TfL consultation document, called Old Oak: A Vision for the Future, proposes a highly-concentrated development on the site including several high-rise blocks that seek to cram 19,000 homes into a relatively small plot of land, resulting in a local population density to rival London’s most notorious estates.
This concrete ghetto has few open spaces visible amid a dense thicket of tall buildings other than the canal and the Great Western rail line that slice through it, along with the north and west London overground lines.
The proposal is a shocking over-development, and on top of that the document makes no reference to social housing. The document is also silent on ‘affordable’ housing. The public consultation leaflet mentions affordable housing but does not say what proportion.
Developers also plan to include a new 40,000 all-seater stadium for Queens Park Rangers – a football club with a core support of less than a third of that number – and a new station as part of the new High Speed-2 network.
Boris Johnson’s failure to make a dent in his house-building election promises cannot, or should not, be solved with a magic wand by shoe-horning tens of thousands of homes into a pint-pot space. To flatten an area of outstanding wildlife importance that is hardly acknowledged and excludes any mention of its’ destruction is doubly appalling.
This is a mad-hatter development that will be bad for human living and will involve the destruction of habit that supports a diverse and often rare collection of birds, mammals and butterflies.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway