Hough End Leisure Centre expansion approval met with anger from fields campaigners at Manchester town hall

Campaigners from Save Hough End Fields who attended the meeting were unhappy with the outcome.

Protesters at Manchester Town Hall chanted ‘shame on you’ as councillors agreed to fund the expansion of Hough End Leisure Centre today (July 13).

The £11.9m budget increase for the project which would see 3G pitches and a car park built on fields off Princess Road in Chorlton was given the go ahead.

But campaigners from Save Hough End Fields who watched proceedings from the public gallery above made their views known once the decision was made.

They have argued that the controversial plans contradict Manchester council’s net zero carbon ambitions by tarmacking over grass and encouraging car use.

After chants of ‘shame on you’ echoed around the council chamber, one protester said: “You don’t care about the climate at all. You just want money.”

The proposal to expand the leisure centre by creating new changing room facilities, sports pitches and extra parking spaces was approved in March.

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However, additional funding was needed to approve increased project costs.

Town hall bosses recommended a capital budget increase of £11.9m, more than half of which would be funded by borrowing, at a meeting on 1 June.

Councillors were then asked to approve the extra funding at a meeting on Wednesday.

But opposition councillors from the Green Party and the Lib Dems did not support the move, speaking against the proposal at the full council meeting.

Green Party councillor Rob Nunney said he is concerned about the increase in motor vehicle traffic that the 127 new car parking spaces would contribute to and he questioned why there were only an additional 24 spaces on bike racks.

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He welcomed the new changing facilities, but said his party – now the town hall’s official opposition group – objects to the floodlit fenced-off 3G pitches.

Lib Dem leader John Leech described the artificial pitches and floodlights as an ‘environmental blight’ locally and questioned some of the council’s claims.

He argued that the council failed to make the case for increasing its budget for the project in a way that is consistent with its aims to become net zero carbon.

He said: “These plans can be dropped here and now by Labour members joining us and rejecting the capital spending.

“I know that some Labour councillors don’t want to support these plans, the question is whether or not they’ve got the bottle to reject them.”

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However, the ruling group supported the move and funding was approved.

Labour councillor John Hacking, who represents Chorlton and is the executive member for skills, employment and leisure, said the expansion of the leisure centre only affects 8 % of the total area of the site in the Chorlton Park ward.

He explained how changes made to the scheme since the original plans were withdrawn make the development more environmentally friendly than before.

This includes by using cork infill on the pitches and ground source heat pumps.

And he explained how the project is aimed at increasing the participation of young people, girls and women and other less represented groups in sports.

He said: “It’s important that we move as swiftly as possible to undertake the works that will bring about these improvements as the current inflationary environment that construction companies are operating in means that any delay could lead to significant increased costs.

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“Our funding partners have indicated that no additional funds will be available to meet any increased costs.”

The capital budget increase request of £11.9m was approved by councillors.