Campaigners battling to save 'unique' Harris Orphanage site from redevelopment close in on victory
The battle to stop the redevelopment of the historic Harris Park site in Preston has won support from council planning officers.
Two applications by the wealthy Bhailok family to refurbish the listed buildings of the former Harris Orphanage and to build houses on the adjoining cricket field - where England star Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff learned to play the game as a youngster - have both been recommended for refusal when they go before councillors next week.
And campaigners fighting to preserve the heritage asset welcomed the news today, saying they were "cautiously optimistic" the plans could now be blocked.
The action group set up to oppose the scheme intend to have their say when it is discussed by the planning committee on Thursday.
In a statement spokesperson Prema Taylor told the Post: "We have been working very hard to protect this unique piece of Preston's history.
"We are cautiously optimistic at the news that the recommendation from the planning officer responsible is that both applications be refused.
"We do of course have to wait for the final decision once the councillors have voted at the planning committee meeting."
The hybrid application involves the refurbishment of the existing listed buildings on the site in Garstang Road, Fulwood and outline permission to build 23 houses on the sports field at the rear.
A planning report which will go before councillors recommends both should be rejected because of the impact they swill have on an important heritage site which was bequeathed to Preston in 1877 from the estate of philanthropist Edmund Robert Harris.
In the report officers say the scheme "would introduce an unacceptable suburban development into the entirety of the Harris Children’s Home Conservation Area and Grade II Listed Historic Park and Garden.
"This impact would have substantial harm (to a high level) upon the character and appearance of the conservation area by impacting upon the space afforded the current buildings and would intrude into the character of the informal landscape."
In addition it says: "Development of the cricket pitch to the west of the village green would erode the character of the landscape in which the heritage assets are experienced, through a combination of over-development and vegetation removal.
"The entire site is considered to be a rare and intact purpose-built and designed orphanage, the only one to be included in the statutory list of buildings of architectural and historic interest compiled by Historic England."
Since the plans to refurbish the Victorian buildings and put new homes on the cricket field were first revealed, the scheme has prompted 227 objections from residents who want to see the historic site remain as it is.
Objections have also been lodged by Historic England, the Victorian Society, Sport England, the county's archaeology department and the Lancashire Garden Trust.
Campaigners have approached both the Prince of Wales and Andrew Flintoff to support their opposition of the plans.