Locals bowl a bouncer at plans for Freddie Flintoff's former cricket field

Plans to turn the cricket ground where Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff learned to play the game into a housing estate could be hit for six.

Wednesday, 3rd June 2020, 12:10 pm

And locals fighting the scheme to build detached homes on the former Harris Park pitch in Fulwood are urging the ex-Lancashire and England star to help block it.

Passions are running so high in the area that an appeal to raise enough cash to employ a planning consultant to oppose the development when it goes before council chiefs reached its target in just 48 hours.

Now a petition containing hundreds of names has been sent to Defence Minister Ben Wallace, the local MP, asking for his support.

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Now overgrown, the Harris Park cricket pitch is where Andrew Flintoff learned to play the game.

“This isn’t just a scheme that affects people in Fulwood, it’s something for the whole of Preston,” said Prema Taylor, one of the residents who launched the appeal.

“Harris Park was left to the people of Preston for their enjoyment and education. For some reason it fell into private hands and now the owner wants to sweep all that away and build homes on it.

“Numerous people have posted objections with the planning department. This is our heritage and we need to stop it being destroyed.”

Preston-born Flintoff cut his cricketing teeth at Harris Park, playing for Dutton Forshaw along with father Colin and brother Chris. One of his earliest memories is watching his dad from a pushchair on the boundary while mum Susan helped make sandwiches for the teams.

Andrew Flintoff learned the game at Harris Park and then took his skills onto the world stage as an Ashes winner.

But it is the history of the overall site which campaigners are fighting to preserve.

The buildings nearest to Garstang Road housed the Harris Orphanage, opened in 1888. A memorial to 17 former boys who died in the First World War still stands in the grounds.

The wealthy Bhailok family bought the buildings and land in 2006 and one of their companies - Eden Grove Investment Properties - has submitted plans to turn the existing properties, mostly Grade II Listed, into luxury homes and build 58 detached houses on the old cricket field, last used in 2013.

If passed the site would eventually comprise 74 houses and nine flats.

Prema Taylor, who lives close to Harris Park, launched the campaign to save its heritage with friend Joanne Adams.

They describe their cause as “the clash between profit and preservation.”

They formed a Just Giving page to raise the £1,152 needed to employ a professional consultant - a target reached inside two days. A revised goal of £1,872 has now been set to cover representation when the application reaches the planning committee.

“If we exceed what we need to cover fees then it will be donated to NHS charities,” said Prema. “We acted because we didn’t just want this application to be pushed through under the Covid emergency powers without being properly debated. I am messaging Andrew Flintoff to see whether he can offer any support.”

Eden Grove maintains: “The redevelopment of the vacant recreation ground and existing buildings presents an opportunity to provide for the borough a mix of housing of different size, type and affordability to meet current and future need.

"The design gives due attention to the existing character of the site to provide an appropriate development. It is therefore considered acceptable.”

The site was acquired in 1881 by the Harris Trustees, established by wealthy benefactor Edmund Robert Harris.

The orphanage opened in 1888 and was endowed to the town of Preston in memory of Edmund’s father.

The complex had a schoolhouse, a chapel, a schoolmaster’s house, accommodation for boys and girls and an infirmary. In 1914 Clayton Hall was added to provide a hall, gym and playroom.

In 1940 it was leased to Lancashire County Council who continued to run the children’s home.

Large open fields were bought in the 1960s for a public recreation ground which was also used for league cricket.

The children’s home closed in 1982 and was bought by Preston Polytechnic as student accommodation. It was sold to the Bhailok family by UCLan in 2006.