MP ‘ready to intervene’ over playing field development
Wednesday 5th December 2018 @ 13:19 by Lauren Entwistle
Ashton Community News

A Tameside MP says she will ‘not hesitate to intervene’ if plans to build more than a hundred homes on a school playing field fail to offer enough alternative green space.

By Charlotte Green, local democracy reporter.

Last month the council narrowly approved an outline application for 132 houses on the site of the former Hartshead High Secondary School in Ashton-under-Lyne despite dozens of objections.

Residents fear that if the playing field is built on they will be left without any free open space to walk dogs and for children to play safely in the Ashton Hurst ward.

Labour ward Councillor Leigh Drennan had urged the committee to vote against the proposals, but they were approved after chair Coun David McNally cast the deciding vote.

A ‘reserved matters’ application will now have to come back to the town hall with a detailed plan for the development, which could see the number of homes rise to up to 200.

In a letter to hundreds of residents living around the proposed new estate off Greenhurst Road, Ashton MP Angela Rayner confirmed she will fight to keep their green space.

But Tameside council, who submitted the plans, say the school site has not historically been deemed a public open space and there are ‘many other good quality open and green spaces’ close by.

Ms Rayner stated: “From the moment this development was announced, I made it very clear that I would not stand by and let residents lose the only bit of green space they have.

“Children need places to play outdoors and residents deserve to have green space close to their homes to enjoy.”

The shadow secretary of state for education added: “The planning conditions state that if they want to build on the playing field, they must provide an alternative green space in the area.

“I will be watching these plans very closely and I want to reassure you that I will not hesitate to intervene if I am not happy with the alternative green space provision suggested by the developers.”

The MP, who also represents Droylsden and Failsworth, added that she is conscious of the housing need in Tameside – but her preference is always for developments to be designated to brownfield sites.

“I know this isn’t always possible, but I refuse to stand by and watch my constituents lose their only recreational space,” she stated.

Ms Rayner added she is ‘very passionate’ about the issue, and has campaigned against similar developments in the past.

A Tameside council spokesperson said: “Tameside has a real need for new housing so that local families can find decent, affordable homes in the communities in which they have grown up.

“To meet this need, the government has directed we must oversee the development of 12,000 more houses across the borough before 2037.

“We are looking at using council-owned land on brownfield sites – which includes former school sites – wherever possible as a means of achieving this while minimising the need to release greenbelt land. 

“We are keen to find a balance between ensuring there are enough new homes for families and ensuring there is enough open space for children to play in and families to enjoy.

“However, the former Hartshead School site – which closed in 2011 – has not been historically a public open space and there are many other good quality open and green spaces close to this site.”

They added that Tameside had benefited hugely from the Building Schools for the Future programme, which saw the development of five new schools in the borough.

“It was always the agreement that disused school sites would be brought back into productive use, and ultimately used for development in order to pay for the initial financial investment in the programme and help protect vital services for our residents,” the council spokesperson said.

“We have been consulting on these plans since 2016, and we have consulted closely with the MP’s office during this process, we will continue to do so to ensure the best possible outcome for our community.”

At the committee meeting in November, objectors argued Ashton Hurst is one of the only wards in Tameside without its own public park, so the playing field was ‘invaluable’ to neighbours who would be left without a nearby free alternative if it was lost.

However John Hughes, the council’s housing growth officer confirmed that recreational and open space would be provided on the site, and featured in the detailed plans which would come back to committee.

The knife-edge decision split members down the middle, with five councillors on each side voting for and against the plans.