Preston North End should "donate" training ground plot to the public, councillor says

Preston North End should fulfil its "moral obligations" to the city by handing over to the public an area of land earmarked for a new training ground.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 2:54 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 2:56 pm
Ingol Village Golf Club closed down in 2017

That is the call from Preston city councillor Neil Darby who says he was "furious" after it emerged last week that the club had purchased Wigan Athletic's training facility in Euxton - putting a question mark over the Lilywhites' plans to build their own state-of-the-art venue on the site of the disused Ingol Village Golf Course.

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Preston North End complete the purchase of Wigan Athletic's Euxton training grou...

However, the plans were mired in controversy with locals bemoaning the loss of an area categorised as "major open space". Preston City Council's planning committee initially rejected the housing proposal, but later accepted a slightly revised application.

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Lib Dem city councillors John Potter (Cadley) and Neil Darby (Ingol and Cottam) want to see the area earmarked for PNE's new training ground opened up to the public

Cllr Darby, who represents Ingol and Cottam for the Liberal Democrats, says that the club should now donate to the city's residents that part of the plot reserved for the training ground - at least until it decides what it wants to do with the site.

"If they plan to hold onto it and see what happens in the future, that's their choice - but they can't let it go to rack and ruin.

"And until they have got plans, I think it would be right that they make it an area of open space for the public to enjoy. If they decide they don't have any long-term use for it, I would like to see them gift it to the people of Preston.

"But I absolutely do not want to see any more housing go up there.

"Residents always felt that the training ground was a Trojan horse for the houses and they never expected it to go ahead - and it feels like their suspicions have been confirmed," Cllr Darby said.

Permission for the training ground was due to expire last month unless work had begun by that time. A small section of concrete roadway has recently been laid, which would count as breaking ground on the project for planning purposes.

When councillors approved the housing plan in 2017, they heard that the training ground would take up 15 percent of the site and the housing 25 percent - with the remainder being publicly accessible open space. As this was previously private land, it was considered an addition to the city's green space, but residents said that much of it was overgrown woodland.

Cllr Darby says that a major factor in approving the training ground application was that it replaced one sporting facility with another - and if the land is not donated to the city, then any future use should be the in the same sporting vein, along with community access, as was promised - or else the basis for the permission will be negated.

He has made a request to the team drawing up a new local plan for Central Lancashire that the area be designated an area of open space under the new policy now that the original plans have been thrown into doubt.

"Residents would welcome it - it's not what they wanted overall, but it's better than the prospect of more housing," Cllr Darby added.

Peter Ridsdale, who acts as a representative for Mr. Hemmings, confirmed that the club had received a formal approach to donate the training ground plot for public access following what he describes as the club's "opportunistic" purchase of the Wigan Athletic facility in Euxton.

He added: "On the balance of the land previously occupied by Ingol Golf Club, over 80 acres have already been gifted as public open space - this land equates to over three quarters of the size of Moor Park.

"Work has already started on this scheme to ensure that over half of the land previously privately owned now becomes available for public use.

"Approximately 24 acres of the land on the Ingol site was purchased by Preston North End Football Club in 2018. As the Euxton opportunity only became available to us some three weeks ago and came under our ownership just a week ago we have not yet decided on our preferred solution for this land.

"As and when we have decided our preferred way forward we will make a further announcement," Mr. Ridsdale said.

It is understood that the first team will begin training at Euxton this autumn, with the under-18s moving from the UCLan sports arena to the club's current training facility at Springfields.