‘Amazing’ Preston leisure development gets the green light on the banks of the River Ribble
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The development - on the edge of the River Ribble and close to Preston Marina - will involve a radical revamp of the existing Trax Motor Centre site and will offer sports including canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding and water-skiing.
The current operation - off Wallend Road - has long been centred around motocross and go-karting which, while open to the public, is part of a wider project providing training and education facilities for children in care.
Under the blueprint that has now been approved by Preston City Council’s planning committee, just under a third of the 33 hectare plot - recently christened Phoenix Park - will be redeveloped to create a “leisure lake”, dry ski slope and mountain biking track.
Thirteen lodges will also be built on the lakeside and used as “transitional accommodation” for post-16-year-old students, to give them a greater degree of independence, but while still delivering the ongoing support and supervision that their care plans require.
The new leisure activities will all operate on an advance booking system, meaning thrill-seekers will not just be able to pitch up and get stuck in.
The plans are the second of what is expected to be a five-phase scheme that it is intended will eventually also deliver a climbing wall, high ropes course and 4G football pitch, subject to the further necessary planning permission.
New walking and cycling routes - along with a nature trail - are also in the offing, while an extension of the nearby Ribble Steam Railway has been mooted as a possibility as part of a masterplan that has been drawn up for the area.
The latest planning approval comes after the green light was given to a four-storey education centre on the site back in November 2021. That structure - known as the Pioneer Tec Building - will be the base from which some of the new facilities are managed and will also include residential accommodation for up to 25 youngsters, as well as a café and shop.
Committee members unanimously approved the phase 2 plans - as recommended by council planning officers - in spite of the fact they conflicted with some elements of local planning policy because the site is classed as being in an area of “open countryside”.
Cllr David Borrow - the city council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, who also sits on the planning committee - told the meeting at which the project was granted permission that its secluded location meant “most people don’t know that [the current development] is there and most people won’t know [the new one] is there when it’s built”.
His committee and cabinet colleague Jennifer Mein, who is responsible for health and wellbeing, added: “It will provide an amazing opportunity for children in care, but also other groups - we haven’t got anything like it.
“It’s not going to impact on residents,” Cllr Mein said.
However, Cllr Stephen Thompson was concerned that it would have an impact on what he described as a “very sensitive environmental site” nearby - a reference to the Ribble Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). He also questioned whether screening was being proposed along the riverside edge of the development, because of that area's use by migrating birds.
Planning case officer Jonathan Evans said that no such protection was included in the design, but stressed that ecologists and Natural England had been consulted about the plans and that the latter was “satisfied that there wouldn't be an unacceptable impact on the SSSI”, which the committee heard was some two kilometres away.
Committee member Phil Crowe said that the plans were simply a case of “reclaiming” a site and “making use of it”.
Planning officers concluded that while the development was contrary to some Preston and Central Lancashire planning rules, the proposals “would not be widely visible given the landscaping retained and proposed at the site and would therefore not have an unacceptable impact on the character of the open countryside”.
“It is considered the balance tips in favour of approving the application,” a report to the committee stated.
Across the application site, dozens of trees and groups of trees have been highlighted for removal as they have “limited life potential” and are “not realistically retainable”, councillors were told.
However, the landscaping plans include the planting of 51 trees, 3,600 shrubs and just over a thousand marginal aquatic plants, along with the creation of a reed bed and areas to be seeded with a wildflower mix.
WHAT‘S ON THE HORIZON FOR FUN SEEKERS?
Located at the western end of the site, the lake will be used for canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and windsurfing. Water-skiing will also be on offer via a mechanical pulley system which will operate within a confined area.
Open water swimming and fishing will be available and the lake will be open for public group bookings.
The body of water will be two metres at its deepest point and around three hectares in area. The south bank will include two crescent-moon-shaped sandy beaches, separated by the water-skiing dock.
The slope will be 12 metres high at its western end dropping to the existing ground level to the east - and 95 metres long in total. It will have a gradient of 11 degrees.
The facility will be created using inert material imported onto the site and formed into the shape of the slope. A special mesh material will be used to form the skiing surface, similar to that used at other dry ski slopes across the country.
The south and western slopes are to incorporate solar panels to provide renewable energy to drive the ski lift that will take users to the top of the slope. All embankments and sides of the slope will be landscaped with planting specifically selected to work with the solar panels.
The feature is to be built to the south west of the existing motocross track.
Mountain Bike Track
The track will run alongside the ski slope and provide a downhill run on which cyclists can practise. That part of the slope will be dressed with a dirt material and feature undulations to recreate the experience of a downhill mountain bike run.
The ski slope and mountain bike track will be managed and operated from the Pioneer Tec Building and will be open to young people using that facility’s services and living on the site, along with others from local schools and the community.
All public use will have to be pre-booked via an online system.
TRAX'S TWO-DECADE HISTORY
Trax Motorsport Ltd was formed by Eddie Sloane in December 2000 and was designed to help the local council and police combat antisocial behaviour, including the illegal riding of motorcycles on public land and spaces.
It created a safely managed site for motorsport, located on land formerly known as Preston Dockland, for young people and enthusiasts to ride off-road motorcycles.