Funding row resurfaces over park campaign

A petition signing day at Ashfield Park in Standish
A petition signing day at Ashfield Park in Standish

A political row over funds for a campaign to “save” a Wigan park has re-ignited leading a councillor to accuse the town hall of election bias.

Wigan Council issued a warning last weekend for residents not to donate to the Save Ashfield Park campaign through its website.

We are very pleased that the fundraising page has been closed

Coun David Molyneux

Ashfield Park, in Standish, was the subject of a village green (VG) application inquiry last year with a government inspector siding with the council in concluding VG status was unnecessary.

Ward councillor Gareth Fairhurst had launched the Save Ashfield campaign due to concerns over potential housing plans on the site that the council has flatly denied ever existed.

The town hall said officers had been made aware the fundraising section of the website was still running and were concerned that donations had been made in recent weeks. The page has since been taken down after the council’s twitter account posted on Easter Sunday: “Save Ashfield - from what?

“We have serious concerns about where donations are going. Ashfield is safe for Standish.”

Coun David Molyneux, the council’s deputy leader, said: “We are very pleased that the fundraising page for the Save Ashfield campaign has been closed after we raised concerns.

“The legal application for Village Green status was finalised and won by the council in September last year.

“Therefore there was no clear reason why people were still being encouraged to give over their money to this fund.”

Coun Fairhurst said the fundraising page had been left up in error and a small number of donations had been made since the conclusion of the inquiry.

He has accused the town hall of disregarding its neutral political stance ahead of his bid for re-election.

Wigan Council raised concerns about the money raised for the campaign last year and advised residents to contact the police if they themselves had concerns.

Coun Fairhurst has maintained the funds were spent on solicitor fees and the campaign in its entirety left him thousands of pounds out of pocket. He said: “The site wasn’t advertised anywhere, everybody knows the VG application was over, I forgot to take the thing down.

“(The council) has waited on this like they have done with allegations against other opposition councillors to hit us before the elections.

“But the people of Standish will not be hoodwinked.”