Hough End Fields: bigger leisure centre, 3G pitches and car parking approved but campaigners vow to battle on

The local authority says the development will be as eco-friendly as possible after residents strongly attacked the scheme’s impact on the green space.

Plans for new sports facilities at a popular Manchester green space have been approved - but campaigners opposed to the development have vowed to fight on.

The planning and highways committee at Manchester City Council gave the green light to the work at Hough End Fields which includes a major expansion of the existing leisure centre, the installation of 3G football pitches and more than 100 car parking spaces.

The local authority says the work will create a hub for sports and physical activity in South Manchester and also highlighted the green measures contained in it.

That comes after campaign group Save Hough End Fields strongly criticised the plans, saying they did not sit with Manchester City Council’s green and environmental targets.

The group says there is still considerable opposition to the scheme and it will continue to stand against it even though the planning committee’s decision went against it, raising the possibility of trying to legally overturn the approval.

What has happened at Hough End Fields?

The plans for Hough End Fields which had been put forward to the planning and highways committee at Manchester City Council have received approval.

The scheme includes building a two-storey extension to the leisure centre to accommodate changing facilities, a community room, an education space, a cafe and health and fitness facilities.

Hough End Leisure Centre will get a two-storey extension as part of the scheme
Hough End Leisure Centre will get a two-storey extension as part of the scheme
Hough End Leisure Centre will get a two-storey extension as part of the scheme

There will also be two 3G artificial football pitches as well as improvements to the grass pitches.

There will also be car parking facilities with a main section and overspill area as well as changes to the highways at the location.

The project will be funded via a mixed capital investment strategy in partnership with The Football Foundation to deliver a community football hub, the first of its kind in Manchester.

A clash over the environmental impact of the development

One of the main arguments put forward by the Save Hough End Fields campaign group has been about the environmental impact of the scheme.

Campaigners have argued that the use of artificial turf at Hough End Fields and the inclusion of car parking are both incompatible with the council’s broader targets around combatting climate change.

They also say residents relish the area for its tranquillity and nature which will be affected by a football facility including fences around the pitches and floodlights.

Hough End Fields
Hough End Fields
Hough End Fields

Since the planning committee gave the go-ahead, the council has been speaking about the green elements of its plan.

It says cycle parking and electric vehicle provision will encourage sustainable travel to the hub, the 3G pitches will be infilled with organic material with granulated cork being used, and sustainable technology will be used to ensure the bigger leisure centre fits in with the local authority’s decarbonisation plans.

The council also said nature-based solutions will be used in the design approach and there are measures to protect biodiversity included.

What has Manchester City Council said about the development?

Coun Rabnawaz Akbar, executive member for neighbourhoods at Manchester City Council, said: “Through this process we have listened to what people have to say to ensure that we protected open green space at the same time as allowing development of the fields to enhance community use in the long term.

“There has been a strong interest in our plans, which we welcomed, and we took on board all those views as we brought forward the right plan to future proof Hough End in the long-term.

“We believe we have the right balance taking into consideration residents’ views while investing in the much-needed and improved facilities.

“Our improvements will benefit the communities that currently use Hough End and allow more people to access leisure facilities, participate in sport as well as creating sustainable, high-quality playing fields and open spaces offering sport and leisure activities to promote people’s health and wellbeing.

“Sustainability is at the heart of the project, and we have designed all the improvements to fit in with the council’s drive to cut carbon emissions. We are placing nature-based solutions at the forefront of the design approach.

“The 3G pitches will be the first natural infill solution that will be brought forward by the Football Association via the Football Foundations Framework nationally. And we have reduced the footprint of the overall development to limit the impact on the wider green space.”

What have the campaigners at Save Hough End Fields said?

Save Hough End Fields says its campaign of opposition to the development scheme will continue, saying the council received more than 1,000 objections to the plans while thousands of people also signed a petition against it.

The group organised a protest outside the town hall just before the planning committee met to urge elected representatives to reject the proposal.

A Save Hough End Fields spokesperson said: “The decision to approve such an unpopular and misguided proposal is a disgrace. It beggars belief that in a climate, nature and air pollution emergency, the council has given the green light to a development that will destroy the habitat of protected species, increase carbon pollution and damage the health of local residents in an already heavily polluted area.

“Our campaign to save Hough End isn’t over - it has only just started.

“We will be exploring the possibility of a legal challenge, and we’re sure local residents, who have supported our campaign in their thousands, will have the decision to ignore their views in front of mind when they vote in the local elections in May.”

The campaign group criticised the lack of a site visit by the councillors on the planning and highways committee and also questioned a comment made in the chamber that the area “cannot stand still”.

One resident said: “This demonstrates the disconnect with local people who precisely love Hough End as a place ‘to stand still’, enjoy the space and escape the bustle of city life.”

The group’s criticisms have been put to Manchester City Council.