This year Ealing Civic Society celebrates its 50th anniversary. The story starts early in 1967 when two local residents decided that a new amenity group was needed for Ealing. Challenges were expected to arise from proposals for local government reorganisation about that time, which affected London in particular. Also an imminent threat to Ealing arose from the GLC’s plan to create a new metropolitan centre to compete with Kingston and Uxbridge.
Using guidance provided by the Civic Trust the residents convened a public meeting in Ealing Town Hall in October 1967 with a view to drawing up a programme of events for the new society. The true nature of the threat came to light shortly after with the plans for redevelopment of the town centre. The fledgling society was faced with the enormous challenge of defeating both the Council and powerful developers over a bypass scheme and a concrete monstrosity proposed for the centre of Ealing – which it and other nearby residents’ groups did successfully.
In recent years, there have been more major developments in the centre of Ealing, in particular at the Dickens Yard, the former Empire Cinema and Arcadia sites:
- The Dickens Yard development is due to be completed next year and is now looming above the town hall with architecture which is not very sympathetic to its surroundings despite the Society’s best efforts to persuade the developers, St George, to do things differently.
- The saga of the cinema site in Uxbridge Road has been running since 2004 when UGC cinemas obtained consent to redevelop the old cinema. It was demolished by Empire Cinemas in 2009 but their scheme to redevelop the site was a casualty of the economic recession and the Council had to take CPO action to acquire the site. Their development partner, Land Securities, gained planning consent for a residential scheme which included an eight screen cinema but then sold on the site to St George who have recently received consent for a revised scheme involving more residential and less retail than the original scheme.
- On the Arcadia site, some 10 years ago the Society was faced with plans to raft over the railway tracks and the prospect of a large tower block. The Council granted consent but the application was called in and eventually defeated at a public inquiry in 2009. Benson Elliot later acquired the site, redeveloped the old Arcadia Centre and had ambitious plans for redevelopment of the rest of the site. The scheme proposed a tower block overlooking Haven Green, sweeping away most of the existing buildings on the site. The Council again agreed the scheme despite strong objections from the Society and national heritage groups. This application was once more called in by the Secretary of State, for determination at an inquiry which was due to be held in May. This was called off at the last moment because the site had been sold to British Land.
Chairman of the Society, Dr Robert Gurd said “Development pressures are probably even greater now than they were in the 1960s, particularly given the coming of Crossrail in 2019, which has been pushing up the value of development land across the Borough and in the Uxbridge Road corridor in particular. There are many other examples around the Borough of smaller but just as unsuitable developments as those recently inflicted upon Ealing Town Centre where we have been fighting on a number of fronts to prevent the worst cases – but we have not always been successful. Despite these setbacks the need for a strong Civic Society has never been greater and new members are always welcome.”