A CASH-STRAPPED Ulverston charity has upset locals after deciding to sell-off part of the much-loved park it owns.
Ford Park Community Group is in talks with developers about building eight homes on part of the former school playing fields.
Trustees say they want to pay off the £750,000 debt accumulated since the park was bought from Cumbria County Council nine years ago.
The move has prompted dismay from some neigh-bours, with one saying he did not want to see ‘a housing estate’ on the town’s most important green space – a popular venue for families, dog walkers, sports and community events.
The registered charity revealed its plans at a meeting to which 50 or 60 neighbours were invited. County councillor James Airey attended following ‘a tip-off’ and said: “As far as the local community is concerned, any building on what is very important, green protected space would be unacceptable. That message clearly came across at that meeting.
“We’ve got a substantial number of houses potentially agreed for Ulverston in the South Lakeland Local Plan and I don’t think building on that site is acceptable.”
Coun Airey is now calling for a public meeting.
Ali Alger, chief executive of Ford Park Community Group, said the charity owed ‘a cumulative total of £750,000’ which included the original Architectural Heritage Fund loan to buy the park from CCC; and a grant and loan to convert the old stables into the Coach House Cafe and Bistro, as a trading arm to help the charity become ‘self-sustaining’.
Mrs Alger said the charity anticipated that selling 10 per cent of the nine-acre park would clear its debts. It had always been intended to sell the Grade ll-listed Ford Park House to repay the original loan, but added: “We put the house on the market in September for £395,000 and the only offer we’ve had is £214,000.”
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She stressed that the charity was working hard to develop its business side, such as weddings and functions, to make Ford Park pay its way, as well as its voluntary activities.
“I have great empathy for the people concerned about the park but I want to maintain it for the long term,” said Mrs Alger. “We would look to put a covenant on the rest of the park so that it couldn’t be built on.”
Ford Park neighbour Walter Gardiner described the housing plans as ‘a bombshell’ and said the news had caused ‘a furore amongst the townspeople of Ulverston’.
“The majority of people I’ve spoken to are absolutely incensed,” he said.
Dr Bernard Gesch, who has lived in the park lodge for 30 years, was very concerned about the charity’s debts and was ‘horrified’ to hear that a ten-year building restriction on the park – due to expire next year – had been lifted.
Coun Colin Pickthall, chairman of the charity’s board of trustees, said the proposal was very modest and the public would be consulted closely.