Rochdale News | News Headlines | ‘The last wild green space’ that locals fear could be turned into housing or a car park

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Date published: 28 February 2024


A beloved bit of wild green space in Littleborough has been fenced off by the council – now locals fear they could build houses or a car park there.

Workmen descended on the popular dog walker spot off Hare Hill Road on Monday (26 February) – which led to nearby residents fearing another unwanted development is on the horizon. The former site of the gasworks, now known locally as Pembroke Park, has been touted for development in the past – but the ground was not deemed suitable, according to residents.

This move by Rochdale Council was unpopular previously, so when a letter was posted through the doors of homes to say feasibility work was starting, it sparked uproar. 

The letter issued by the council states that initial site work will take around five weeks followed by a monitoring period. This means the green space is expected to be closed for three months.

Although the letter mentioned parking or housing was on the cards if the land is suitable – there is no guarantee development will follow.

For Heather Campbell, from the Protect Pembroke Park’ group, this latest development is an ominous sign of things to come.

“Why would you park here when the station is all the way down there,” the 65-year-old said, gesturing towards Littleborough station just under half a mile down the road. “There is a station car park as well. 

“It’s just nonsense isn’t it. My friend’s daughter and a number of others living around here got a letter to say that they (the council) were going to do investigations here. I live just over the back and I didn’t get anything.

“There is a great big development down the road where there are going to be hundreds of houses. I don’t think Littleborough needs anymore.

“They’ve not improved the infrastructure, it’s a one horse town and there is nowhere to put any new roads. They say they’re investigating, but to what end?

 

Heather Campbell, 65, of Greenwood Place
Heather Campbell, 65, of Greenwood Place © LDRS

 

“It’s the lack of clarity and communication that gets me. It is the fear of the unknown. It’s a very small village which has a lot of traffic already.”

She went on to say how they are not averse to change or building on brownfield sites like this one – but they want it to bring benefits to the town and not add to existing problems. Local voices went unheard when they objected to housing developments off Smithy Bridge Road and Stubley Meadows in recent years.

Even then people said Littleborough was full up and no more houses were needed – but both applications were approved, meaning hundreds more houses in the pipeline.

Although primary school places were not deemed an immediate problem, Heather was not alone in saying places in Wardle Academy were too few.

Campaigner Julie Alfrey said: “We haven’t got dentists, doctors are overrun, we haven’t got a secondary school other than Wardle, and lots of our kids are shipped out to Kingsway just outside the catchment area. But the roads, we haven’t got the roads to deal with it.

“Soon it will be full of commuters who will spend most of their day sitting in traffic jams trying to get out of the area.”

For Julie though, this battle is personal as she continues her son’s fight to protect the wildlife in the area. The land’s wild nature means it has become home to rare wildlife such as roe deer, foxes, the protected Pipistrelle Bat as well as a host of insects and birds.

Her son Johnny Alfrey, who died at the age of 22 in 2022, was instrumental in setting up bat boxes for the protected species within Pembroke Park – now Julie feels his work will be undone if council workers chop down trees.

“It is a very wild space,” the Pembroke Street resident said. “It’s not particularly tidy, but it’s untouched and a lot of people walk their dogs through it and it’s closed off. You don’t find many wild areas like that any more.

“We have tawny owls you can hear every night, a family of roe deer, protected Common Pipistrelle Bat and lots of uncommon vegetation such as wild garlic and blackberries.

“It seems like everyone is snapping up pieces of land and trying to build on them. I feel like they are determined to make it housing or a car park.”

Julie worries the work currently going on could scare off the wildlife, which would leave the space wildlife free if a future development was proposed.

 

Julie Alfrey, of Pembroke Street
Julie Alfrey, of Pembroke Street © LDRS

 

She reminisced about how Johnny would make dens and play in the green space in previous years, and she does not want to see that lost. This nostalgia of how the space is loved by the youth was shared by Julie’s neighbour on Wellington Street Linda Nuttall.

“Our son, who’s 45 now, played there when he was younger after they put it as greenery,” the 75-year-old recalled. “I remember before that it was the gasworks. “They had dens and things like that in there.

“I know things have to change but it seems a bit too much now. There are places to go but the centre is still small.

“When I was little you knew everyone, but that’s not the case now. I know people like to come and live here then travel to Manchester as the commute is good. 

“It was a village but it’s a lot bigger now. Ona weekend it does get bad for parking, but that isn’t the best place for it – it needs to be more central.”

The retired nurse wants to see the next generation of children enjoy the space as well. One young family, who were stopped in their tracks by the perimeter fence during a dog walk, shared this concern for the future.

Nathan and Emily Southern were walking with their two dogs with a young baby in the pram when they came across the blockade at the start of Pembroke Park. Nathan explained they use the site two or three times a week due to its convenience and a spot they can let the dogs off safely.

Emily added: “There is no need for more housing as the road is horrendous. I have a massive concern about the roads which have been caused by too many houses.

“My concern is for the children’s safety going around here now. The secondary school is full up, Kingsway is where some are going for school – which will put more people onto the roads (doing the school run).”

Although no plans are in place and any future development would have to go through a planning process, which would involve consultation with locals, people in Littleborough fear they will not be listened to again. Linda summed up the feeling of the area in regard to previous developments by saying “didn’t seem to matter what we say” – she feels change is inevitable and not stoppable. 

Mark Robinson, director of economy and place at Rochdale Council, said: “As part of some ground investigation work we are undertaking on Hare Hill Road in Littleborough, a small number of newer trees have been removed, in addition to a small amount of vegetation, fallen branches and brambles. No established trees and plants have been removed. 

“The site team are only removing as much as is required to enable them to carry out their work and a tree preservation specialist and an ecologist are working closely with them to ensure that any impact on wildlife is kept to an absolute minimum.

“We don’t yet know whether this site is suitable for development, and that’s what these investigations will help us determine.

“We recently carried out an engagement exercise with local residents and businesses on our new masterplan for Littleborough. As part of the feedback we received, we were asked to explore options for additional parking in this area to support the independent businesses in Hare Hill Road.

“Any future proposals for this site will be considered by local councillors before any decisions are made.”

George Lythgoe, Local Democracy Reporter

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