Future of popular Preston park decided as football revamp gets the go-ahead in the face of public opposition

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Controversial plans to build new football facilities on a Preston park have been approved.

The Lancashire Post understands that the revamp of Ashton Park was agreed during a behind-closed-doors meeting of Preston City Council on Thursday morning.

The decision means that the Pedders Lane site will see a new 3G pitch installed, along with six grass playing pitches, a 150-space car park and a two-storey sports pavilion.

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The £9.5m scheme - to be funded with a share of the £20m the city was awarded from the government’s Levelling Up Fund - prompted uproar among many residents when it was the subject of a public consultation in the summer.

Campaigners opposed to the proposed revamp of Ashton Park were waiting for councillors outside the town hallCampaigners opposed to the proposed revamp of Ashton Park were waiting for councillors outside the town hall
Campaigners opposed to the proposed revamp of Ashton Park were waiting for councillors outside the town hall
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The 1,200-strong ‘Fight for Ashton Park’ group was formed in opposition to the vision for the popular green space. Speaking to the Post as news of the approval emerged, founder member James Walmsley accused councillors who had backed the blueprint of selling their souls.

He also warned them that they had not heard the last of the campaign against the plans. “I would say to them: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night, because we will not go gentle into the good fight’.”

Earlier, a delegation from the group greeted councillors as they arrived at the town hall for the December meeting of the full council. But the decision on Ashton Park was taken in a private session of the gathering, because it involved discussion of commercially confidential information presented as part of the business case for the proposal.

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However, the Post understands that three options were put on the table: the full scheme, a slimmed-down version - with no 3G pitch, a smaller car park and a single-storey pavilion building - and a ‘do nothing’ scenario.

It is believed that the recommendation of council officers was to support the originally-envisaged plans, which have been the subject of a 2,200-signature petition.

Outside the meeting, campaigners handed out leaflets, waved placards and buttonholed cabinet members in a bid to get the city council to back away from an overhaul that would see 15 percent of the park taken up by the new facilities, according to the authority’s own figures.

Inside, one group member asked a question of environment and community safety portfolio-holder Freddie Bailey, who was reminded that more than 80 percent of people who attended public consultation events and 79 percent of those who completed questionnaires were “against much of the proposed development”.

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On that basis, campaigner William Raines said he hoped that the council could confirm that at least the 3G pitch was “no longer under consideration”.

While Cllr Bailey could not give the requested reassurance, he said that the consultation was “one of many things” that members would be taking into account.

“All councillors…have access to that consultation for the business case and also the report that goes with it. All of that will help them form their decision.”

Preston City Council has not yet commented on the scheme getting the backing of members.

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The authority's own independent planning committee will also have to grant permission for the project before it can go ahead, with an application likely to be lodged before the end of the week.

As the Post has previously revealed, the proposals have proved popular amongst junior league football team coaches in Preston, who say there is a dearth of suitable playing facilities for the plethora of local teams.