Sparks fly as park’s future is debated

Coun Gareth Fairhurst
Coun Gareth Fairhurst

RESIDENTS using a Wigan park have been doing so as “tolerated trespassers” for decades, a councillor told a public inquiry.

Gareth Fairhurst made the claim as long-awaited proceedings to determine whether Ashfield Park in Standish should be granted village green (VG) status took place at the town hall.

Coun Fairhurst, who is the spearhead behind the Save Ashfield Park campaign, set out to convince the inquiry chairman that recreational use of the park has never been formalised by the council.

And therefore residents’ informal use of the park satisfies the requirements of VG status, which will in turn prevent potential housing developments.

However, council bosses have long maintained they have no plans to build on Ashfield and have accused the Save Ashfield campaign of wasting thousands of taxpayers’ money on taking the issue to an inquiry.

The council’s legal representative Mr Philip Petchey outlined the argument that the park had been maintained specifically for recreational purposes and therefore VG status would not be required.

He said: “It’s absurd, we suggest, to suggest that the use by the public is as a trespasser even if that is softened by the suggestion that they are in some ways ‘tolerated’ trespassers.

“There is no evidence at all that the park was intended to be used in that narrow way, just for teams that hire it.”

Outlining his campaign’s legal stance, Coun Fairhurst said formal (such as scheduled football matches) and informal (such as dog-walking or picnics) use of the park had not been set out sufficiently by the council.

He asked witness Michael Fishwick, green space development officer, which would take precedence if they overlapped.

Mr Fishwick told the hearing that a “degree of common sense” would be expected, adding officers had relied on the courteous nature of Standish residents. Coun Fairhurst added: “Would you agree the park has been set up for formal use but informal use has been tolerated because of the size of the park?”

Mr Fishwick said he believed the park was set up for both informal and formal use.

In his opening statement, Coun Fairhurst said: “I thank the people of Standish for asking me to represent them with this application. Many were very concerned about the prospect of losing this facility.”

“I think it’s clear that the area has not been laid out for recreational use, only for football, dual use has not been established. That’s why I vehemently oppose any suggestion that any use has been ‘by right’.”

The inquiry will continue throughout Wednesday.

Coun Fairhurst’s witnesses in favour of the VG application will feature during today’s proceedings.