Residents living near Higham’s Playing Fields have vowed to fight plans by Accrington Stanley Community Trust to build a £2 million sports hub.
Nearly 300 people packed into St Joseph’s Church on Belgarth Road for a heated public meeting with council bosses with the vast majority voicing their outcry against the proposals.
Concerns were raised over the ‘devastating impact’ it could have on local people’s lives with fears that the development will lower house prices, cause traffic and parking problems and lead to noise and lighting issues.
A ‘Save Highams Playing Fields’ committee was formally set up at the meeting on Wednesday night and will be chaired by Milnshaw councillor Malcolm Pritchard who has already received nearly 800 signatures from an online petition .
Coun Pritchard said the popular playing fields should be ‘kept open for the residents’ and argued ‘if there’s a fence around it then it’s not going to be a public playing field’.
The Observer reported earlier this month how trust representatives would not be attending the meeting because they ‘do not have the full sports hub plans to feed back to the public’.
Those plans are set to be published within the next four weeks with trust bosses promising to hold another public meeting to update residents and answer questions.
The sports hub, which has received backing from amateur football leagues and clubs in Hyndburn, would include a large 3G pitch, an artificial cricket wicket, two grass football pitches and one grass rugby or football pitch, changing rooms, cafeteria and a car park ‘to ease traffic congestion on Thorneyholme Road’.
However residents at the meeting told council leader Miles Parkinson that ‘nobody in the area wanted the development’ and that the facility would have a ‘really devastating impact on peoples lives’.
One resident said: “I think the first thing that you have got to satisfy are the local residents. That field was left to the people of Accrington. I don’t think the council have the right to pass them on to somebody else.”
Some residents voiced fears that the site could become a ‘white elephant’ claiming there are too many other facilities nearby and ‘not enough clubs’ able to sustain it, while others believed the decision was ‘already cut and dried’.
Concerns were also raised over the possible adverse impact on the local elderly, disabled and those with learning difficulties who regularly use the playing field for walking, playing and picnics.
One resident hit out at the trust for not sending a representative to the meeting saying: “They are making a big show about benefiting the communitym but the fact is none of them are here tonight.
“Whether they are ready with the plans or not they should be here to find out what we feel now.”
Coun Parkinson came under fire from angry residents at the meeting when he voiced his support for the scheme, claiming it would help reduce council maintenance costs and provide £2 million of extra investment into borough sporting facilities.
He also denied that any decision had already been made by the council over the plans citing the various hurdles the proposals must get through before reaching the authority.
He told the meeting: “There are three things which must be got over. The trust have to satisfy Sports England criteria, then Fields in Trust and then they will have to satisfy the borough solicitor on the deeds of the land.
“If they can clarify all them then they will have to submit a planning application and have to satisfy the statutory providers including the highways authority, district council, plus residents who could also chip in with their views.
“My view is I’m supporting it. You elect people to office to make difficult decisions and I make those week in, week out, and I will go off what is best for the area.
“It’s £2 million investment, it’s improving the playing fields for all the user groups and the council hasn’t got the money to get them to that level and to have a pavilion which is suitable.
“It’s a playing field which should be used more.”
Coun Parkinson said the proposals for Higham’s Playing Fields follow similar applications made in recent years for other council land in Rishton and Great Harwood which have been leased to local football clubs.
Responding to Coun Parkinson, one angry resident said: “You have been voted by the people of this town to represent them but you are more interested in representing companies.”
Another added: “The Labour party slogan is ‘for the many not the few’ but you are not supporting the many, you are supporting the few.”
However Coun Parkinson said there are 70,000 people living in Hyndburn and claimed there are ‘just as many if not more’ supporting the proposals.
Milnshaw ward councillor Paul Cox said he wanted to see the final plans from the trust before making a decision.
He told the meeting: “I personally feel that until they come forward with their plans and show me what they are proposing to do I think that we are all jumping the gun a little bit.
“I think a lot of the things discussed tonight is about access to the site, parking and lighting.
“I have listened to all the points that everyone has raised and why they oppose this development and it’s important that every single one of those are addressed and discussed.”