Manchester GAA club says: Don’t play politics with playing fields
by Damian Dolan
Opposition to plans by former Manchester United and England soccer star Gary Neville to develop greenbelt land in Manchester’s Stretford into top range playing fields could mean missing a great opportunity, according to one of the city’s top Gaelic Football clubs, St Lawrence’s.
The club’s chair James Wray urged the local authority, Trafford – where Tories this month lost overall control after 14 years – not to let party politics ruin an opportunity for the area’s young people. St Lawrence’s has its home ground at Turn Moss in Stretford, Manchester and would potentially benefit from upgrading the minimal facilities there at present.
The plans, put forward by Mr Neville, in partnership with Trafford Council and Salford City FC, appear to have fallen through after the Conservatives lost control of Trafford Council in the recent local election. Trafford Council will be formally constituted next week on 23 May.
Mr Wray said the current facilities are “just not good enough” by any measure.
The plan by Neville and Trafford Council would convert some of the green belt land at Turn Moss (less than 10 percent of the total area, says Trafford Council) into three football training pitches for Salford City FC, new changing and toilet facilities, a floodlit 3G community pitch, increase car parking and a café with outdoor terracing and a children’s play area.
“There’s a huge concern on our part that it won’t happen at all,” Mr Wray told the Irish World. “For the improvements at Turn Moss to take place it requires huge levels of funding.
“I just don’t see where that money is going to come from to improve pitches and sort out the changing facilities and the drainage, never mind a café, without a Salford City FC and Gary Neville’s input.
“Turn Moss can’t go on as it is. There’s no safe changing facilities for children or women. They either have to go behind a bush, or take them to the nearest retail outlet.
“The café would have encouraged parents to come along and they could have used those toilet facilities, and the improved changing facilities would have meant we could have opened it up for our ladies team and children.”
St Lawrence’s has two pitches at Turn Moss where it runs a men’s and a ladies’ team. The club holds underage tournaments with 140 children playing Gaelic Games on weekends. The plans would have seen the club’s second pitch moved closer to its first pitch, which is located next to the existing changing rooms.
Both Trafford Council and Mr Neville had indicated that they would have looked at making “some improvements” to both pitches, with drainage an issue at Turn Moss. The benefits of the proposed redevelopment for St Lawrence’s GFC would have been “huge”, says Mr Wray.
He added: “It would have been a better environment and we would have been working very closely with Gary and Salford City FC on their community programme. Salford City FC were keen to work alongside us.
“We would also have had access to the new university (University Academy 92) being set up. There were real benefits here, but it just seems like the sports clubs [which use Turn Moss] have been forgotten about.”+4
This month’s local elections saw 14 years of Conservative rule ended as Labour picked up four Tory wards to bring its number of seats up to 30, compared to the Conservative’s 29. With neither party holding a majority, Labour leader Andrew Western and council chief executive Theresa Grant agreed to delay the application hearing. The council’s planning committee had originally been due to make a decision on the plans for Turn Moss this week.
If Labour’s leader takes control, as is expected, the plan will be withdrawn as the council is the applicant. As part of his pre-election manifesto, Councillor Western had already pledged “to come up with a plan for Turn Moss that benefits everyone, not just ‘a private football club”, and to “engage with the community”.
Turn Moss is full of Football pitches desperate for investment in them… why stop it? To put what? Nature trail? Allotments..
— kieran mooney (@kiemooney) May 7, 2018
After the decision to defer the plans Gary Neville tweeted ‘Ok you’ve “Saved TM” you won. You saved it from – Investment , community facilities , improved amenity, sustainability for the future , high quality environment for all sports teams and a hub with driven individuals who would facilitate social and physical inclusion.’
Mr Wray added: “We’d met with Gary separately and the council, and he was always very open and honest with us. Someone of immense integrity.
“He said immediately that he wasn’t going to do anything that would negatively impact upon the local teams down there. There were huge benefits for the community.
“He made a commitment to us when we first met with him that he would look at the drainage while they were doing their pitches to see if there was anything they could do with ours as well.
“He guaranteed we wouldn’t be any worse off and he’d look at ways of improving our pitches. “You have people going down there who look at the current state of the facilities and they take one look and they walk away and they don’t come back.
“Gary was looking to set up a community hub for all of the users, which would have met once a month and if there were any issues, or any ways in which he could help the clubs, he was more than willing.”
Turn Moss can’t go on as it is. There’s no safe changing facilities for children or women.
St Lawrence’s Chair James Wray
The Save Turn Moss group criticised the plans as having little benefit for the local community, while causing loss of green belt and disturb wildlife. Chair of the Save Turn Moss group, Simon Howarth, said: “Andy Western has promised that Turn Moss and Flixton green belt are the first issues on Labour’s agenda.
“We are hopeful we can now move onto the next phase for the area, which is a proper, community-led proposal that will be of real benefit to all.”
The floodlit 3G community pitch would have been available to hire for matches and training by local soccer clubs. The three pitches would be leased by Trafford Council to Salford City FC and would have been located on the section of Turn Moss where there are currently three unusable pitches due to flooding. These pitches will take up ten per cent of Turn Moss.
There would have been no floodlights on these pitches. Salford City FC would have use of the three pitches on weekdays with occasional weekend use. The existing changing facilities would have been upgraded. Trafford Council would have remained the landlord and leased the land to Salford City FC for ten years.
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