Residents in South Ribble have lined up to demand answers about the future of some of the borough’s small parks and play spaces.
At an often testy meeting of the full council, cabinet members faced a barrage of criticism over a consultation into potential future uses for the sites - including the possibility of building on them.
A letter sent to locals in five areas of the borough in December said it had not been “formally agreed” which locations would be brought forward for assessment nor for what purpose. Residents were invited make their views known and assured of “full consultation”.
But the ruling Conservative group was accused of having already taken a decision about some of the spaces in a private session of the council’s cabinet three months earlier.
Minutes of that meeting reveal that members “approved the release of three sites to undertake immediate site investigations for residential development”.
The locations were listed as: Bridge Road/Todd Lane, Lostock Hall; Kingsfold Drive, Penwortham and Balcarres Green, Leyland.
Residents in the vicinity of each of the areas discussed at cabinet received the consultation letter, along with two others - Bent Lane in Leyland and the former McKenzie Arms site in Bamber Bridge.
Labour opposition member, Matthew Tomlinson, said residents had been treated “awfully”.
“We’re now consulting with people - after you’ve taken the decision. What sort of a process is that?
“How much confidence can our residents have in a consultation, when you’ve already taken the decision?” Coun Tomlinson asked.
And Labour group leader, Paul Foster, claimed the ruling party had been “caught out” and urged them to pledge not to build on the sites.
But the Conservative leader of the authority, Margaret Smith, denied that any conclusion had been reached and revealed that public engagement events were actually planned for later this month.
“The decision that was taken in cabinet in September was to investigate further issues around the spaces that we are now discussing - the word is ‘investigate’. It wasn’t that the work was complete or that we were going to go ahead and start planning buildings,” Coun Smith said.
“If you are investigating something, you are actually taking the situation out to consult and we have got to that [point] now.”
During a lengthy response in which she was interrupted on two occasions by members of the public accusing her of not answering the question - Coun Smith said that not everybody had the same views about the future of the sites. She added that the council had to consider where people were able to live.
“We don’t wish you to feel that we’re not going to take regard of your comments - that’s why we are going to consult.
“Please be assured that I don’t take any of this lightly - it is something that has got to be worked through and I want to work through it with you as the residents,” Coun Smith said.
One local watching the meeting had already spoken to demand “more respect” in the decision-making process about development and another questioned whether there had been “a deliberate attempt to mislead”.
Coun Foster told Coun Smith that "99.9 per cent of residents are against over-development".
And after the council leader’s response, some of those residents remained unconvinced.
“My children used to play on Bent Lane,” Leyland resident Samantha Taylor said.
“I want to know from the council - who had their secret meeting - what gives them the right to take that play area away from future generations of children?
“What gives the council the right to have a secret meeting about our land?”
Deputy leader Caroline Moon said that some meetings had to be held behind-closed-doors because of commercial confidentiality, which she described as "an irritation" to councillors as well as residents.
"The idea of this is to try and have a conversation [about] how you view of these pieces of land, what currently happens with them and what you want to see happen with them in the future?
"Nobody decided in that cabinet meeting to take anything away - I sat in it and that's not what happened," Coun Moon added.
HAVE YOUR SAY
The consultation process will begin on February 18 and run until April 1. There will be two public events:
February 18, Leyland Leisure Centre, 4pm-8pm: discussing South Ribble’s “green links project” and the future of open spaces, leisure and wellbeing in the borough.
February 29, Civic Centre, Leyland, 6pm-8pm: special event discussing green links project, but with a particular focus on Bent Lane and the area known as Strawberry Valley.
In a statement after the full council meeting, chief executive Heather McManus said: "The green links consultation has been advertised borough-wide, with a campaign being run in the local press.
"The cabinet member for regeneration and leisure, Coun Phil Smith, has also been on BBC Radio Lancashire to speak about it.
"A letter has been sent to areas specific to several pieces of council-owned land, which we were already out to consultation on, advising that further consultation will take place through the green links as advertised."