Council withdraws controversial expansion plans after consultation
Manchester council has withdrawn contentious plans to redevelop Hough End leisure centre and playing fields that have divided public opinion.
The local authority had outlined its vision for the site between Chorlton and Withington to become a ‘vibrant seven-day-a-week sport and leisure destination’.
But a planning application to expand the centre and its car park, while also building fenced-off sports pitches and new changing rooms, encountered significant local opposition.
More than 2,600 have signed a petition to ‘Save Hough End Fields’ from redevelopment, while hundreds more have joined a campaign group of the same name (SHEF).
Concerns were raised about the loss of open space to artificial football pitches and softball and baseball pitches, as well as the potential impact on nearby residents, park users, local wildlife and air quality on Princess Parkway.
Another main point of contention has been the scheme’s potential impact on a covenant which says that a minimum of 20 acres of the fields must not be used ‘for any purpose other than as an open space and recreation ground for the free use of the public’.
Consideration of the planning application was put on hold in May to allow Manchester council to review responses to a public consultation.
Bosses have now announced that they will be going back to the drawing board to develop new proposals for Hough End.
Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, executive member for neighbourhoods, said: “We have now completed our review of the responses raised from the original consultation.
“We have listened carefully to what residents have had to say and their responses will help to shape our new proposals for the site in the future.
“We would like to thank all residents and community groups who have engaged in the community consultation to date and will now reflect on the feedback that has been provided to shape the revised scheme.”
The new plan for Hough End is currently being drawn up by council officers and residents are expected to be updated on its progress by the end of August.
SHEF, the campaign group which boasts over 1,100 members on Facebook, has cautiously welcomed the announcement.
They have now urged the council to uphold the covenant in future plans, while also protecting local wildlife and encouraging public transport use over extra car parking.
April Preston, a member of SHEF and local Liberal Democrat activist, said: “After being refused meetings with elected and council officials, we are pleasantly surprised that our calls have been met.
“Residents were put at arms length and it took good old fashioned people power to get local representatives to see sense.
“Upon seeing the unpopularity of these proposals, rather than the principle, they changed their mind.
But some living near Hough End and in communities that the proposed facilities would serve, are critical of SHEF and supportive of Manchester council’s original plans.
Alex Hartley, who lives a few hundred metres away from Hough End and is a regular user of the site, described the proposed revamp as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ for existing and potential amateur sports enthusiasts in south Manchester
He accused SHEF of ‘hijacking’ the public consultation through a campaign ‘spearheaded by environmentalists, local opposition politicians and dog walkers who do not use Hough End playing fields to play sport’.
“The reality is that the proposals will greatly increase the different number of physical activities which can be played at Hough End,” said Mr Hartley.
“It will greatly increase the quality of the existing facilities and enable them to be used all year round, whilst maintaining over 22 acres of open and accessible green space for those who do not play sport.
“I hope the council can resubmit the planning application having considered some of the legitimate concerns of local residents on things such as increased traffic, parking and litter without detracting from the original intention of improving the lives of the residents of south Manchester through greater access to sports and leisure facilities.”
Article originally appeared on Manchester evening news.
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