Ashton Park campaigner seeks place on Preston City Council

Posted on - 7th April, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, Parks, Politics, Preston buildings & attractions, Preston Council, Preston Locations, Preston News, Redevelopment
Ann Cowell, Independent candidate for Lea and Larches ward at Preston City Council elections 2024
Ann Cowell, Independent candidate for Lea and Larches ward at Preston City Council elections 2024

A campaigner who has been battling against a controversial revamp of her local park is seeking a seat on the council behind the plans – claiming the community has not been listened to.

Ann Cowell has put herself forward as an independent candidate for Preston City Council at next month’s local elections.

It follows the Labour-run authority’s approval in February of a football-led overhaul of Ashton Park, which will see a new 3G pitch, six grass pitches, a two-storey pavilion and a car park built on the Pedders Lane site.

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The £9.7m scheme – for which separate planning permission has yet to be granted – is one of the projects that formed Preston’s successful bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund.    However, the blueprint sparked a 2,000-signature petition and the creation of the Fight for Ashton Park group – of which Ann is a founding member.

She has now thrown her hat into the ring for election to the Lea and Larches ward, which borders the sprawling green space. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), she branded the blueprint for the park “ludicrous”.

The proposed sports hub at Ashton Park
The proposed sports hub at Ashton Park

“We’re not opposed to…the grass pitches – that’s fine. But not this convoluted 3G pitch and then the hub and the car park on what is pure green grass.

“We’ve been going to council meetings and asking questions [and have been getting] obfuscation.   So I want to get in and to know what’s going on – I want to ask the awkward questions.

“I just feel like we’ve been ignored.  Lea and Larches people haven’t been represented [on this issue] whatsoever. I could have stood in Ashton [the ward in which the park sits and where Ann lives], but at least we’ve got Cllr Liz Atkins – and she’s been supporting us all this time,” Ann said.

Labour’s Cllr Atkins voted against the plans – in spite of a warning from her party that attempting to change the vision for Ashton Park could risk the loss of Preston’s entire £20m Levelling Up Fund pot, which is being used for other projects including the replacement of the city’s Old Tram Bridge.

Ann – who worked for the city council as an officer until 2015 – accepts that she is “a wildcard” candidate, but says she represents the many people she claims are “disillusioned” with party politics in Preston – over Ashton Park and other issues like housebuilding.

“People are frustrated – [they think], ‘What’s the point? No one listens to us.’

”Labour have forgotten us, they have forgotten what they’re there for,” Ann said.

However, Jennifer Mein, the Labour councillor who is up for election in the Lea and Larches ward this year, rejects that characterisation.

“We’ve had meetings with people and the vast majority in Lea and Larches want the park development.

“There’s a really critical shortage of football pitches in the Preston locality.   [Ashton] has always been a football park, so it’s sad [that]…people are complaining because they want the open spaces, [as] there’ll still be plenty of open space – [the pitches will be] a small proportion.  It’s a huge park,” said Cllr Mein, who is also the cabinet member for health and wellbeing.

She said that the scheme will help rectify the poor drainage within the park, but acknowledged that “the big issue” for many residents is the 3G pitch and the potential environmental impact of what it will be made of.

“We are talking to the current government and Labour opposition to ensure – the best we can – that the last thing that gets done is the all-weather pitch and we will use the latest materials available.

“We’ve listened to concerns about the wildlife, we’ve had surveys done and…we’ll take professional advice. No mature trees are going and there’ll be lots of extra shrubbery and planting going in,” Cllr Mein said.

Meanwhile, standing for the Liberal Democrats in the ward is Mark Jewell, who previously represented part of the area more than a decade ago when the seat had slightly different boundaries and was known just as Larches.

He says as a football coach who has lived in Lea and Larches for 35 years, he recognises the “huge demand” for more 3G pitches in Preston.

However, he told the LDRS his party had responded to the “really valid concerns of residents” – and suggested a compromise solution of scrapping the all-weather surface and shrinking the size of the pavilion.

“I really didn’t feel [the council’s plan] was in character with the park and there were perhaps other locations where 3G pitches could be located…[but] the other parties voted down [the Lib Dem proposal].

“I have also made strong observations back to the council around their traffic assessment…[which] acknowledges…a 10-15-minute delay just to get on to the park and off [during peak weekend use of the pitches].

“One of my huge concerns is people won’t line up to get access – they’ll be parking around and about. So this isn’t just about objecting to what’s going on to the park, it’s about listening to residents [and] raising the consequential concerns, which need to be answered,” Mark added.

The LDRS was unable to reach the Conservative candidate for Lea and Larches, Tes Slater, for comment.    A full list of candidates will be published early next week after nominations have closed.

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