Football plans for Preston's Ashton Park face fresh hurdle as councillors poised to make final decision

A controversial plan to redevelop Preston’s Ashton Park will finally be put before the committee of councillors that has the power to decide its fate next week - but theirs might not be the final say.
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The proposed creation of a new 3G football pitch, half a dozen grass playing surfaces and a two-storey sports and community pavilion was first approved in principle at a Preston City Council meeting back in December.

However, the £9.7m blueprint - which was reconsidered by councillors and given the nod for a second time in February after the threat of legal action from locals opposed to the scheme - also needs to be granted permission by the authority’s planning committee before it can go ahead.

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That could happen at a gathering of the cross-party group next week when council offices will recommend approval - but papers published in advance of the meeting reveal that grassroots sports body Sports England has got a problem with one aspect of the design.

The future of Ashton Park could be decided before the month is out (image:  Kelvin Lister-Stuttard)The future of Ashton Park could be decided before the month is out (image:  Kelvin Lister-Stuttard)
The future of Ashton Park could be decided before the month is out (image: Kelvin Lister-Stuttard)

The organisation has lodged an objection to one of the proposed footpaths to be created in the park. They consider the route - which would run from the centre of the site towards Pedders Lane and Whinfield Lane - would “sub-divide” the playing space.

Sport England states that the layout would “restrict [the] ability to accommodate additional pitch provision should there be any increased future demand for football or other pitch sports” on the park.

According to city council planners, the proposal “has the potential to meet Sport England’s expectations” - and a revised design has now been submitted for consideration.

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Committee members will be told in advance of the meeting whether the change has addressed the organisation’s concerns. If it has failed to do so, then the final say will rest with the Secretary of State.

That would inevitably further delay a project which is already facing tight timescales for completion, because of the conditions that come with the government Levelling Up cash that is covering the vast majority of the cost. Ministers had demanded that Levelling Up Fund schemes be up and running by March 2025, but the city council has already estimated that the Ashton Park project would be completed later next summer.

Before reaching their decision, planning committee members will also have to factor in 187 letters of objection to the proposal from 130 households, along with 29 letters of support from 26 addresses.

Councillors on the committee have to judge the application solely against planning legislation - irrespective of whether they voted for or against it at the full council meeting where it was approved by a majority after a tense debate.

The agenda papers for next week's meeting also show that a previously-proposed 150-space car park has now been reduced to 120 spaces.

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