Ashton Park sports hub plans receive backing from junior football coach

Posted on - 10th August, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, Larches, Lea, Parks, Politics, Preston Council, Preston News, Recreation, Sport
Chris Murray and his daughter Winnie Pic: BBC LDRS

A junior football team coach says that multi-million pound plans for new playing facilities in a Preston park are desperately needed – because children are regularly missing out on matches as a result of bad weather and a lack of pitches.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) in a personal capacity, Christopher Murray also claimed that the proposals for Ashton Park enjoyed significant support from locals – in spite of the formation of a 400-strong campaign group that has set out its staunch opposition to them.

Preston City Council is currently consulting with residents over a blueprint to build a new 3G pitch and sports hub building at the Pedders Lane site.

Read more: Preston parks retain their green flag status

As the LDRS revealed last week, when taken together with a new car park, the additional facilities will wipe out almost 15 percent of the current parkland surface area. Six grass pitches – five of which will be junior-sized – are also proposed, a three-fold increase on the current provision.

The “Fight for Action Park” group has condemned the proposed loss of green space and also told the LDRS that the plans were “biassed” towards football.

The proposed sports hub at Ashton Park Pic: Preston City Council

However, Christopher says that he has first-hand experience of the contrast between the demand for pitches from local junior teams and the dearth of suitable playing space available.

“We’re in the height of summer right now – and yet I’ve had two games cancelled this week, [because of the weather]. Winter games are regularly cancelled – week in, week out, children are having football called off due to the weather and [not being] able to find the facilities to play.

“And you try and tell 22 children who are already in their kits on a Saturday morning that they can’t play because the pitches are waterlogged – even though they know it hasn’t rained for 24 hours and the sun’s now shining.

“We use grass in summer, so we play on the [existing Ashton Park] fields, but they clearly struggle with water. Then in winter, we try to get 3G facilities, but there are none available.

“These little grassroots clubs all around Preston spend a lot of money trying to book pitches, so that sport can continue for hundreds of children,” added Christopher, who recently started managing the Springfields girls under-8s team in Ashton.

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The football pitches at Ashton Park are often left waterlogged by the Preston weather Pic: BBC LDRS

He undertook a Facebook poll to try to get an idea of public opinion about the city council’s plans and said that 41 percent of more than 500 respondents were in favour, with seven percent being unsure and wanting more information. He said that the – albeit unscientific – results demonstrated that opposition to the proposed development was far from overwhelming.

The £9.5m council vision is being paid for by £7.5m out of Preston’s share from the government’s Levelling Up Fund, with the remainder being sought from organisations that could offer match funding for the project.

Christopher – whose own seven-year-old daughter, Winnie, is a keen footballer and plays in the Springfields team – stressed that existing facilities in Preston are either booked up “for years” or do not offer the same FA-recognised standards as those being proposed by the local authority, which can affect eligibility for competitions.

While his own team currently has a base some three miles away at Penwortham Holme in South Ribble – because of its place in the Mid Lancs Colts Junior League – that will change as soon as the players turn nine, when they will need “a home of their own”.

“If we can’t train, we can’t play – and if we can’t play, then the funding stops coming in that keeps these grassroots clubs going.

“For whatever reasons, [the wet weather] is spreading into summer more now – so we really need to start putting these facilities in place ready for the future, for all year round.

“It’s also a good way [to help combat] all the antisocial behaviour people say they see. This is about leaving our community in a better position for the next generation,” Christopher added. The public consultation into the plans runs until 31st August and can be accessed here.

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