Plans to develop Hough End playing fields put on hold after outcry from campaigners
- Plans to develop Hough End playing fields in Whalley Range into major sports complex have been put on hold
- Move comes after outrage from local residents
- Local coucillors say residents 'have mixed views' about new plans for floodlit sports pitches and extension of Hough End leisure centre
Manchester City Council has announced that it will effectively pause plans to redevelop Hough End Fields into a major sporting complex.
The deadline for public consultation, during which time residents share their views on proposals, was originally 1 June. This has now been extended to consult further with the community.
The decision comes following hundreds of objections from local residents and a 2,000-strong petition.
The surprise announcement was made at a consultation event on Monday night and followed a letter sent by Save Hough End Fields to the council on 20 May calling for the consultation to be extended by at least six weeks.
Pauline Lozoya Hocking, one of the lead campaigners from Save Hough End Fields, said: "It’s about time the council finally admitted they underestimated the strength of feeling in the community against this development.
"We call on them to use the pause to properly consult all users of the fields on what we'd like to happen in our shared open green space."
Chorlton Park Counciilor Joanna Midgley said: “We’re quite keen to see investment, and I think some of the plans are really good, but we need to listen to what the residents think.
“That is why the consultation has been extended. Residents have very mixed views about the development: there will be positives and negative responses.
“We just want to see a fair outcome.”
The plan would see the construction of 5G football pitches which will be available only to paying customers, as well as baseball and softball pitches the council says will be open for public use.
The existing layout of the playing fields would also be reconfigured to make way for the proposed pitches.
Currently there are 14 senior grass football pitches, two Gaelic football pitches and two rugby pitches.
The plans also include a viewing gallery, a cafe, and an extension of the existing gym, fitness suite, and an additional 125-space overflow car park also features in the proposal.
The group Save Hough End Field’s Facebook page has amassed near 1,000 members. 390 objections had been submitted along with 2190 signatures on a petition.
A leaflet sent out to residents states: “The land was given to the people of manchester to be enjoyed freely.
“The new plans include fencing off the fields, preventing public access.
“Many trees would be cut down and significant green space and vegetation lost.”
Residents also point out that the fields were originally bequeathed to the people of Manchester by lord egerton under the convent “not to use or permit to bemused this area for any purpose other than as an open and recreational ground for the free use of the public.
The Liberal Democrats have also been part of the campaign. They say that Labour have failed to deliver on their environmental comitments.
Councillor Luthar Rahman, who was recently elected to deputy leader of the council, told the MEN this week: “Following investment, the upgraded facilities would greatly enhance sporting benefits and opportunities in the local area, and it would continue to be a vast public open space for everyone to use with controlled access on a relatively small area of the playing fields.
"We want to deliver the best leisure facilities that we can for the local communities that they serve which is why we also want to reinvest in Hough End leisure centre facilities which are currently not meeting local demand.
“Development plans would ensure facilities can meet the capacity for an increase in visitor numbers and would fit in with our long-term vision for Hough End to become a vibrant seven-day a week sport and leisure facility which would offer something for all local residents."
A joint statement on the development was also issued by councillor Dave Rawson, Joanna Midgley and Mandie Godwin. It states:
"We have been contacted by lots of residents with a variety of comments. There is no single view on the proposals and people have different views on different elements of the scheme.
"Initially we secured an extension to the consultation process to allow more views to be captured.
"It is worth pointing out that these proposals are for an increased offer for sports in the area- which will benefit all and particularly young people. Some of the critics of the scheme do lose sight of this. Manchester has really significant and life-limiting problems with health, levels of childhood obesity and inactivity. Promoting more access to active lifestyles should be something we are positive about. Since the leisure centre was built it has been hugely popular with a very high percentage of users coming from the Chorlton Park ward and other adjoining wards. It has been a tremendous success and lead to a happier, healthier community across all age groups. We shouldn’t forget that.
"Hough End Playing fields have been sports fields for decades but the quality of the pitches is poor, and together with the closure of the changing rooms many clubs have struggled to use the pitches. Cancellation of games has been a real issue and childrens’ football in particular has been badly affected. The purpose of the 3G pitches is to provide additional capacity for clubs and this will really benefit children as these pitches will be available all year round and are capable of dividing into smaller pitches for children, and this means that they get the opportunity to develop ball skills, something much more difficult to achieve on larger pitches.
"That being said, we fully appreciate that there are environmental impacts to any increase in the sport offer on the site and those need to be balanced against the positive impact of the development. From the outset we have said that there are lots of positives in the proposals but also things which on the face of it do cause us concern or that we would need further reassurance on. We have, and have expressed to officers, real concerns about the impact on local road use from increased use of the site and the impact on Whitchurch Road and Princess Road and Mauldeth Road West
"We are all very committed to the improvement of the environment locally, and have made it a real focus of our work and that will not change.
"Over the last few weeks we have met the project team and attended all consultations with residents and have heard a range of views. Some people are in favour of the whole scheme, some are entirely against. Other have more nuanced views where they support some aspects but are against others.
"It is now the time for the project team to put together that information and analyse the responses they have received. At the request of us as Councillors, the process has been paused to allow an adequate time to reflect on the feedback given. The planning process has been put on hold to allow for this to be done and no timescale has been put on this. Once we have this information, we will be making our considered view on the proposals known to the project team and to residents. We need to see what responses have been received before doing so.
"We remain confident and hopeful that there can be a reflection of the feedback given during the consultation and that a proposal can be brought forward where there is an increase in the youth sporting offer on the site whilst protecting and mitigating the environmental impact. We are glad that plans are paused whilst this proper consideration is given to feedback.
"Whilst we go through this process we are all available to talk to residents throughout and we hope that everyone engages in good faith. Everyone- those who support the whole scheme, those who oppose it all and everything in between- want the best for our local area but people have different views on what that best looks like.