Football plans for Preston's Ashton Park prompt legal threat from residents

Preston City Council could face a legal challenge from locals if it presses ahead with controversial plans to build sports facilities on a suburban park, the Lancashire Post can reveal.
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The Fight for Ashton Park group was set up last year in response to a proposed revamp that would see a two-storey sports pavilion, 3G football pitch and 150-space car park created on the popular green space on Pedders Lane.

The £9.7m vision – to be funded largely via cash from the government’s Levelling Up Fund – was approved at a meeting of the full council in December. However, the scheme still requires planning permission from the authority’s own independent, cross-party planning committee.

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The 1,200-strong campaign group – which opposes the major elements of the project in their current form – has now issued the city council with a so-called “letter before action”, indicating that it will seek a legal block on the development should it ultimately be approved.

The Fight for Ashton Park group says it is ready to step up its battle (main image: Cassidy + Ashton/Eric Wright Construction)The Fight for Ashton Park group says it is ready to step up its battle (main image: Cassidy + Ashton/Eric Wright Construction)
The Fight for Ashton Park group says it is ready to step up its battle (main image: Cassidy + Ashton/Eric Wright Construction)
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Council defends overhaul for Preston's Ashton Park as residents threaten legal a...

It is understood solicitors instructed by the campaigners are in correspondence with legal advisers for the local authority after the group raised concerns over wildlife and archaeological surveys undertaken for the planning application.

They also questioned why the council meeting at which the overall concept was agreed went into private session while the matter was discussed, a move which the council has previously indicated was because it involved the disclosure of commercially confidential information presented as part of the business case for the proposal.

James Walmsley, one of the founder members of Fight for Ashton Park, told the LDRS that the group was gearing up for a lengthy – and potentially costly – legal battle against a blueprint that would swallow up almost 15 per cent of the site’s surface area, according to the council’s own figures.

“The fight begins if they pass it,” James warned.

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“We’re prepared financially because we fundraised for the first phase – the legal letter – and we have since been approaching individual benefactors to help. [Other people] realise they are as vulnerable as we are to this kind of thing – and they want to protect their green spaces.

“Through our strategy of networking and approaching like-minded people…[our] support is growing.

“[The council] needs to prepare for a long haul.”

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition opposing the development and 80 per cent of more than 600 respondents to a public consultation into the idea were against it.

The Post approached Preston City Council and a spokesperson for the authority said: “The council has engaged external legal advisors and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment on any aspect of the case.”

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The application is expected to be brought to the planning committee for consideration imminently because the city council has said it wants to begin work this summer in order to meet strict government deadlines about when projects paid for with Levelling Up Fund cash must be completed.

Ministers originally indicated that the schemes must be delivered by March 2025, but it is understood that there is now some flexibility over the final completion date, which could allow the Ashton Park work to continue until later that summer.