Park’s war of words reaches boiling point

Coun Gareth Fairhurst hopes to save Ashfield Park in Standish
Coun Gareth Fairhurst hopes to save Ashfield Park in Standish

AN ongoing dispute between the council and a campaign to “save” a Wigan park has escalated due to a controversial information leaflet.

Local authority bosses say they have become increasingly concerned about reports residents have been donating money to the Save Ashfield Park campaign.

They released a flyer last week - entitled Save Ashfield Park, from what? - reiterating the Standish park is “safe from housing.”

But Save Ashfield campaigner Coun Gareth Fairhurst has accused the council of misleading residents on the park’s future.

He has applied for village green (VG) status which will be determined at a public inquiry later this year.

Deputy leader of Wigan Council Coun David Molyneux said: “We have issued information about Ashfield Park as it has been brought to our attention residents in Standish have been handing over their hard earned cash for a campaign that is unnecessary.

“It is very worrying that people have donated money that isn’t accountable.

“There is no need whatsoever for a Save Ashfield campaign and we will continue to reassure residents of this.

“Residents have been led to believe the park needs saving from housing development, which is not true. If the park becomes a VG as a result of the inquiry this would prevent any investment into the park.

“As many residents will know there are a number of planned housing developments in Standish and as these homes are affordable the developers will have to pay money to the council. This money will be used for improvements to the village.

“Residents will be sent more details from the council over the coming weeks which will set the record straight about Ashfield and also provide more details about the planned housing developments.”

Coun Fairhurst responded by posting on his blog a piece entitled: Ashfield - The Truth.

He said: “Wigan Council is obviously getting desperate. They have issued a press release saying that the VG application is based on false information. This is not true.”

He then references a number of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request which he claims reveal council officials have discussed housing plans on the site with developers.

They refer to a pre-planning application from Persimmon Homes that did not progress to any further stages.

The post states all the money donated to the campaign “can be accounted for.”

Adding: “Wigan Council are urging people not to subscribe to the legal battle fund. Why?

“Because it is unlawful? No, because the barrister that we have is one of the most highly respected in the land and they know that they will have a fight on their hands.”

A date for the public inquiry for the VG application is yet to be set but is expected to last for one week. It will be conducted by an independent government inspector.