War of words over pony rescue base

General view of a pony farm or horse rescue centre, thought to be squatting on fields and woodland off Plank Lane, Leigh
General view of a pony farm or horse rescue centre, thought to be squatting on fields and woodland off Plank Lane, Leigh

A controversial pony and horse rescue centre is at the centre of a legal battle between its owner, residents, the council and the Catholic Church.

The local authority has intervened in a row in which locals accuse Judith Ripley-Aitchison of setting up the sanctuary on land off Plank Lane, Leigh, without permmission and its causing major headaches for them since.

Mrs Ripley-Aitchison says she has every right to be there and that her project is providing a much-needed service.

Wigan Council has already taken legal steps to limit the Leigh Horse Rescue Centre and Nature Reserve which is on land owned by the Catholic Church. Neighbours complain it causes problems: blocking views, stopping children playing on the land and traffic issues involving large vehicles - and have urged the town hall to intervene further.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure, cultural and property services, said: “The council is assisting the Liverpool Roman Catholic Archdiocese in seeking to secure the removal of the horses which have been brought on to the land without the landowner’s permission and are causing problems for local residents.”

Mrs Ripley-Aitchison said she was aware the land is church-owned but said she had a legitimate claim, details of which would be kept private in case of potential future legal action. She said: “We are the victims of harassment. If the church was bothered about what was happening we would have heard something about it by now. It has all been from the council. If anything, they should be encouraging what we’re doing; it’s a not-for-profit community project.”

The Archdiocese declined to comment.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: “She just turned up one day and fenced off the land for herself: no planning permission, no consultation. Ever since then it’s been a nightmare. There are often big vehicles parked on the road near the entrance which causes traffic problems.”

Another said: “I know people who used to enjoy lovely views but that view has now been blocked because of the fences. This used to be land the whole community used. When we were children we would head down to the field and play near the stream.”