Wetlands Centre Wants to Block Barn Elms Licence Bid

Says birds at nature reserve would be disturbed by loud music

London Wetlands Centre. Picture: Visit Richmond/Facebook

June 2, 2023

The WWT London Wetlands Centre has raised fears birds would be ‘scared off’, driving visitors away, if plans from a neighbouring sports centre for events with music and alcohol are granted. The nature reserve is next to Barn Elms Sports Centre, Barnes, which would be able to hold the activities on part of its 52-acre site under the new plans.

Enable Leisure and Culture applied to Richmond Council for a licence to hold entertainment, including live music, from 9am to midnight and sell alcohol from 11am to midnight every day at the sports centre’s clubhouse on Rocks Lane.

The licensed area would also include surrounding field and a temporary marquee that would be installed if the application was granted.

Licensing consultant Frank Fender, representing Enable, told the council’s licensing committee on 30 May if no events were taking place, alcohol would only be sold in the clubhouse which would close at its usual hours. The licence, he said, would allow Enable flexibility in accepting event bookings.

The bookings could be from individuals or groups, from family celebrations to corporate events. Neighbouring sports facilities at the centre already hold a licence.

But Adam Salmon, WWT London Wetland Centre manager, said the reserve is concerned about outdoors events affecting breeding wetland birds, overwintering duck numbers and bats due to noise and external lighting.

He said, “The Wetland Centre is a business which can be affected by disturbance, so disturbance to fauna in the forms of birds and bats, but it’s also the visitors that we get during our opening hours. So those visitors are coming to a place for a tranquil event and a big part, and a much growing part of our business, is wellbeing. Now that would be adversely affected by very loud concerts or whatever it is that you are suggesting that may be held… on the playing fields areas as part of the application.”

He added: “If the species are being affected and we’ve got no birds on site because they’ve also been scared off, or we see gradual declines in species because of noise and lighting, then that will also adversely affect our business because people will stop coming.”

The reserve would not object to indoor activities if noise and lighting are kept at an appropriate level, Mr Salmon said.

But he warned, “We do have concerns if there’s large numbers of people exiting the premises late at night having consumed alcohol because that is on our perimeter and we’ve had many problems in the past, not saying it’s come from that area, of drunk people trying to access our site over fences and things like that.”

He added, “We cannot risk causing disturbance to what we’ve already got. These spaces are diminishing as it is and that would be a tragedy.”

Neighbour Victoria Gillard said the area is very quiet and peaceful, “basically in the middle of a nature reserve”. She raised concerns noise from events like “weddings and parties that are going to be in the temporary marquee are going to be really disruptive for local residents”.

She said: “It’s incredibly stressful this whole process anyway. It’s creating anxiety, affecting mental wellbeing of residents, the uncertainty of knowing… how we’re going to be disturbed.”

Local Alejandra Leon Leiton said she did not believe the applicant had sufficiently addressed potential “disruption to the peacefulness of the surrounding residential area in the actual application for running the events and selling alcohol”.

Mr Fender said the Wetland Centre and residents would be notified about planned events, along with ongoing communications. He said each event is risk-assessed and Enable has a noise management plan, which would be adapted for each event, to ensure residents and businesses are not disturbed.

The consultant added the sports centre takes its “social and legal responsibilities very seriously” and would not “undermine the licensing objectives” if the application was approved.

He later said, “This applicant is an extremely experienced operator of events which are managed in a way that does not cause issues for local people or for businesses.”

He argued comprehensive conditions on the application address concerns raised about potential anti-social behaviour and noise, while responsible authorities agreed “because they have not made any representations whatsoever.”

He said disturbance to wildlife does not “constitute one of the licensing objectives” but the applicant is “acutely aware of the need to ensure that none of the events that take place at the sports centre adversely impact on the London Wetland Centre”.

He said licensable activity at mid-week events could be allowed until 11pm instead of midnight, with a closing time of 11.30pm, while midnight would be preferred for Fridays and Saturdays.

Cara Gibson, managing director at Previse Events, a freelance company which supports events, said the sports centre usually receives applications for community and sporting events – “no large gigs, no music concerts, nothing of that nature would typically take place”.

She said it is likely 10 or more events would take place under the licence and big events would not be held over consecutive weekends. There is a traffic management plan for the site, she added.

The committee’s decision on the application will be published in the coming days.

Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter