Maclise Road woodland under threat

Habitat of a number of protected species menaced by St George development plans.

The Olympia Battle is due to start next month, when a Public Inquiry will be held. Over 400 residents of 30 different streets in the neighbourhood, residents associations and local organisations are ready to fight St George plans to build 251 residential units where the Olympia Car Park is currently located. If St. George has the go ahead, the Maclise Road woodland will disappear, among many other adverse consequences to current and future residents.

The woodland is a scarce green lung in the area. St George proposal would destroy 90% of the woodland and its diverse flora and fauna, including a number of protected species. The site contains squirrels, frogs among other amphibians and reptiles and many trees such as Holm oak, ash, elder, sycamore and apple. Bats do use the green area as a feeding site on reported sightings on various occasions. Due the density of berry-bearing shrubs it is particularly attractive to migratory birds for feeding and there is a variety of breeding birds, including blackbirds, wood pigeons, warbles, thrushes, jays, magpies, wrens, robins and woodpecker. It can be found there several types of funghi, such as hypholoma, judas' ears, polypores, russulae, peziza and saffron caps. Residents reported months ago the sight of house sparrows, whose population is declining dramatically in London, and Sparrohawk, a bird of prey that was threatened by extinction in the 50's and 60's. This spring, bluebells, violets and speedwell appeared in great numbers in the site. This is all under threat.

"Losing the woodland would be a tragedy for the animals that live on it, and for the residents who enjoy it - and for what? For St George to make a huge profit out of several hundred more expensive, short-term business-rental-type properties: unlikely to contribute much to the life of our local community", says Alan Jenkins, a literary editor who lives at 130 Sinclair Road.

Both councils involved, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, have unanimously rejected the first Planning Application to develop the Olympia Car Park. But the biggest developer in London won't be stopped easily. The company appealed against the councils' decision and now a Public Enquiry will be held from the 3rd September.

Together with residents and other local organisations, SRRA is working to present a "rock-solid case" at the Planning Enquiry. The association requested independent specialist advice. One of the country's leading environmental consultancies have produced the first of three biodiversity report, the most complete ever conducted on the site, showing how important the preservation - and enhancement - of the Olympia Car Park green space is to the community.

St George plans are for a 435m long predominantly five-storey continuous block of flats abutting the railway, with a two-storey house at each end. The site, known as the Olympia car park, is situated just to the north of Olympia Exhibition Centre. It is a thin strip of land, running in a south-east to north-west direction, between the West London Railway line and the rear of the nos. 2 to 150 Sinclair Road.

Alan Jenkins says: "It would involve destroying the two-acre woodland which is a valuable tract of green space (a "green corridor") in a borough that has very few green spaces; it is a habitat for a variety of wildlife and a contributor to the biodiversity of the area - biodiversity and ecological factors are given great prominence in the report on planning for London published recently by the Mayor's office."

The Mayor's Biodiversity Strategy expects planning permission to be refused if a proposed development has a significant adverse effect on land identified as being important for nature conservation and the Maclise Road woodland has received such status by the GLA.

The whole of the proposed development site lies within a "Green Corridor", as designated in the Unitary Development Plans (UDPs) of both LBHF and RBK&C. The land is also a Site of Nature Conservations Importance Grade I.

Both councils specially acknowledge the benefit from the trees. A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) was placed on all the trees of the site in December 2002 by LBHF and RBK&C. The order makes it an offence to cut down, uproot prune, damage or destroy the tree or trees in question.

The London Biodiversity Strategy also identified that there is a particular lack of woodland in central boroughs north of the Thames and eastwards into Essex. "The seven boroughs along the Thames, from Hammersmith and Fulham to Barking and Dageham have less than 20 hectares of woodland between them, denying residents easy access to this popular habitat", says the document.

So scarce is woodland in this part of London that the site alone, with 0.5 hectare of woodland, accounts for over 3% of the total amount present in the seven London boroughs adjoining the Thames from Barking to Hammersmith and Fulham.

"The loss of a precious little woodland area with its mature trees and the stupidity of putting such a huge building on such a small and inappropriate site and you can understand why we simply do not want it", says Lynda Trapnell, from 28a Sinclair Road.

Apart of the consequences to the local fauna and flora, the lost of the woodland would also have several side effects to residents as pointed out in the document submitted by Case Officer Niko Grigoropoulos to LBHF Planning Committee: "The area is already densely populated and suffers low standard of air quality. The lost of the woodland, a green lung in the area, while the car fumes would experience within a more enclosed area, resulting in increased incidence of asthma, especially children."

The report concludes: "The applicants fail to provide any nature conservation measures within their development to further the intentions of the green corridor designation. The total coverage (with the exception of the northernmost tip) of the site with buildings and road surface means that there is no space available to provide open space and trees within the site. The proposal would result in the loss of an existing nature conservation asset, endanger mature trees in the rear gardens of the Sinclair Road properties, make no contribution whatsoever to bio-diversity, open space or play area provision. It would instead result in the destruction of an existing open space, woodland, TPO trees and would provide sterile built environment, to the detriment of the amenities of local residents and the future occupiers of this development."

Residents are also concerned about the danger and lack of security if the green corridor is removed. People will be able to invade most of the houses, since the gardens are not prepared to prevent that at the present. And the proposed building, amplified by the loss of the woodland, would contrast with the appearance and treatment of the rear elevation of the Sinclair Road terraced properties.

"At present we look out onto woodlands. If the development was to take place we would look out onto other flats and be overlooked by them, affecting light and privacy", says Monica Aroma, resident at 128 Sinclair Road.

St George development will suppose many other adverse consequences to residents in terms of traffic congestion, parking space, road, noise and safety. Watch out this space next week when residents will be speaking up.

For more up-to-date information on how to stop St George development: SRRA Web site

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Comment on this story on the forum