Article published: Wednesday, May 2nd 2012
Members of a Moston residents’ group are threatening to take Manchester City Council to court over the decision to allow FC United to build their new stadium on playing fields near their homes.
Residents United Residents’ Association (RURA) have issued a warning letter to the council demanding they stop the development on the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields or face legal action. The council have yet to respond.
RURA argue the land cannot be developed because it was donated to the people of Manchester as vital open green space to be held in charitable trust for local residents, protected by covenants to ensure the land is not built on. The council disagrees however, with the city solicitor stating that “none of the land to be disposed of is held under a charitable trust and it may therefore be disposed of by the council as part of its corporate property.”
Sandra Henshaw, of RURA, said the council should have chosen a ‘brownfield’ site of disused industrial or commercial land to build the stadium rather than a residential area. “It’s not just the fact that it is a football stadium, we don’t want anything to be built there. We are losing enough open green spaces as it is,” she explained.
The intended development for FC United, a fan-owned club formed by breakaway Manchester United fans after the Glazer takeover, will contain a 5,000 capacity football stadium, full size artificial turf pitch and two junior pitches. There are also plans for a public space for community events and outdoor celebrations and a club house which FC United general manager Andy Walsh said can be used for schools’ events, older people’s activity sessions, breakfast clubs and youth drop-in facilities.
The plans for the 5,000 capacity stadium have seen fierce controversy since initial proposals to build the development at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath were quashed in the wake of last year’s spending cuts. Initial approval of the plans back in October saw passionate divisions in local opinion, with people bearing Moston postcodes writing 2,404 letters in support of the plans and 1,369 against.
The controversy has also caused splits within Manchester Labour, with long-standing local councillor Henry Cooper quitting the party in protest after accusing the council of riding roughshod over objections against the stadium. Now, former Labour member and RURA supporter Bob Hill is standing as an independent in tomorrow’s elections, arguing that the size of Labour’s majority in the city is so large they can ignore residents’ views on land they say was left to them as open green space.
“Morally they have not taken into consideration the original reason the fields were left to the people of Manchester,” said Hill.
During consideration of alternative areas after the initial Ten Acres Lane plans were dropped two other possible sites on the council’s short-list, Wythenshawe Park and Broughton Park were ruled out in favour of the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields. Wythenshawe Park was rejected due to restrictive covenants on the land, limited parking and strong objections from residents – all reasons applicable to the Moston site.
The council also disclosed that the Moston development will cost around £4.5 million, whereas Ten Acres Lane was estimated at £3.5 million. Mule asked the council to comment on why they went ahead with a seemingly more expensive project despite having to review their “strategic priorities for investment into football facilities”, but did not receive an answer.
The current holders of the lease for playing fields at the site are Moston Juniors, a 250-strong community football club with members ranging from five year olds to adults. The junior club have had ambitions of expansion if their own for 10 years and were disappointed when their plans to build their own stadium and club house, supported by £750k from the council, collapsed after a valuation of the work completed by the Football Foundation advised the stadium would cost £2m.
Since then the £750k has been transferred over to the development of FC United’s new stadium, and Moston Juniors will also lose one pitch as part of the plans. The Juniors are currently negotiating together with the council to find a new pitch to play on at nearby Boggart Hole Clough and Paul Mitchell, chairman of the junior club, said that before the lease is signed over conditions must be met in order to safeguard Moston Junior’s interests. “We are not the drivers behind the change but we want to achieve the best we can for Moston Juniors and get the most from this location,” he explained to Mule.
As part of this, if the stadium goes through the Juniors are in talks with the club to make use of FC United’s intended new facilities including a 3G astroturf pitch and two grass pitches, changing and function rooms and the use of the stadium’s main pitch for ‘prestige’ events such as cup finals.
One Moston parent who did not wish to be named was enthusiastic about the plans, telling Mule the stadium would enhance the facilities his son uses. “Moston Juniors may start to develop a partnership with FC United which could help the children become better players, who go on to play for FC United,” he explained.
Some residents remain unconvinced however. Resident Ann Hunaina has concerns over increased traffic, the exclusion of locals from the “beautiful open space” provided by the fields and the quality of the investigation into the site’s suitability, which she feels the council are “skimming over”.
“I think someone in the council, very high up, wants this to go ahead,” said Hunaina.
Mule asked Walsh of FC United how the club felt about the level of opposition from nearby residents.
“We believe in time that many of those who oppose the scheme now, will come to recognise that on balance the development will be of benefit,” he said, and was keen to point they are “respectful of the rights of local residents to air their concerns” and intend to keep communication channels open after the stadium is completed by setting up forums and a hotline.
An official start date for work has yet to be issued but indications are that FC United intend to start work on the site in the spring if a final £500,000 shortfall can be found. The club will also need to meet obligations covering some of the costs and conditions of travel to the site, car parking and community use.
Regardless of any community deal being struck, Bob Hill insists only real winners are FC United. As well as the club receiving the £750k originally earmarked for Moston Juniors, he argues they have gained 12.5 acres of land for a nominal £1 rent for 125 years while the people of Moston would be left to put up with “all the trouble a football crowd bring.”
“In view of the money ploughed into this scheme, the name of the scheme should be Manchester City Council United FC,” said Hill.
Sandra Henshaw, also of RURA, said the council’s claim that more local residents support rather than oppose the decision was “simply not true”. She added, “We have been knocking on doors and people are telling us they don’t want this and are willing to put their hand in their pocket to donate their own money to help fight this decision.”
The comments are closed.