‘Empty’ Preston park needs football-related revamp to revitalise it, junior league manager claims

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A Preston park would be better used if controversial plans to build a new sports hub and football pitches on it were given the go-ahead.

That is the claim from a junior league football coach who says that Ashton Park - which is earmarked for a £9.5m revamp - is often “generally empty”.

John Griffiths has set up a group - Yes to Development on Ashton Park - to counter what he says is the misconception that locals are unanimously opposed to the planned overhaul, which would be funded using government 'levelling up' cash.

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The proposed facelift drew condemnation from some residents when it was put out to public consultation in July, with a campaign mounted under the banner “Fight for Ashton Park”. The associated Facebook group now has 1,100 members, while a petition calling on Preston City Council to rethink its blueprint for the park has been signed by 2,300 people.

John Griffiths claims that Ashton Park is under-used at the momentJohn Griffiths claims that Ashton Park is under-used at the moment
John Griffiths claims that Ashton Park is under-used at the moment
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As the Lancashire Post has previously revealed, the main changes - namely, the installation of a synthetic 3G football pitch and the creation of a new pavilion building and a 150-space car park - would take up almost 15 percent of the park’s current surface area. Additionally, six traditional grass pitches would be developed, a trebling of the two that are currently available.

However, John - whose Facebook group has so far attracted 278 members - says that the proposal basically amounts to the loss of “the middle of the park”, leaving most of it, including wooded areas, untouched. He also claims that it would give Ashton Park a new lease of life - something which he believes is supported by more locals than is currently apparent.

“A lot of those who live [around here] want the park to be developed, because they want it to be a space they can actually use. If you look at the plans, they include putting in paths for people to walk around the park - you can’t do that at the moment.

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How the proposed new sports hub would look (image: Preston City Council)How the proposed new sports hub would look (image: Preston City Council)
How the proposed new sports hub would look (image: Preston City Council)

“It would also bring in a facility that's safe for kids, whereas now, it's just an open park.

“I just don't see it being used for sporting [activity] right now - whether it be football, cricket or whatever. I don't see it being used by kids.

“Plus, the current football pitches flood,” says John, who manages one of the local Springfields Football Club’s under 11s boys’ teams.

The public consultation into the redevelopment plans closed at the end of August. Preston City Council has told the Post that it cannot yet provide a definitive timeline for the following stages of the planning process, but says that the feedback received “is assisting us with designs and what comes next for the scheme”.

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The authority's own independent planning committee of councillors would also have to grant permission for the changes - which were put forward as part of the city council's bid for cash from the government's Levelling Up Fund - before they could go ahead.

Projects funded by grants from that fund - under which Preston received £20m for work which also includes upgrades to Moor Park and Waverley Park, as well as a replacement for the city’s Old Tram Bridge - have to be completed by March 2025, other than in exceptional circumstances.

While the Fight for Ashton Park group has blasted the proposal for being biassed towards football - and has warned that the space would simply “cease to be a park” - John says that it would provide much-needed playing and training areas for youngsters.

He says that Springfields lost the use of their home pitch - at Lea Community Primary School - last weekend, because of flooding, forcing his own team to travel to Eccleston to play on an “unsuitable” surface. Other teams saw their games cancelled.

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“I hate the word but thempicy in Eccleston was squelchy,” John says.

“Growing up, I played on some horrific pitches, but now there are a lot more safety guidelines - which is probably more beneficial for kids nowadays than when I used to play and the mud would be up to our knees.

“The kids just want to play, including my youngest. As soon as it starts raining, he's like, ‘It’s off, isn't it, Dad?’

“I just think it’s a bit sad.”