Hill Top Moss is situated just a little further up the road on the right from the giant Walkden Tesco but is a world away from consumer farming and corporate greed.
The Moss is covered with shrubs and grasses, complete with butterflies, toads, foxes and more. It's a wildlife corridor and is formally attached to Blackleach Country Park which has its entrance just a few paces away. The Moss is a local beauty spot and provides spectacular sweeping views across Salford and into Manchester and beyond. …
…Which makes it ideal for developers to destroy and stick dozens of houses up in its place.
Residents only discovered Salford Council's plan to sell off the land when a small `statutory notice of intent' appeared in the local free sheet. Then they discovered that, last October, Deputy Mayor David Lancaster had formally agreed in secret (Part 2 of the meeting) to `dispose' of the open space land `subject to prior fair and due consideration being given to any objections received'…
After the small advert appeared, residents were given just two weeks to object…but then further discovered that Salford Council, via Urban Vision, had been in negotiations with Redwaters developers for the previous two years about the sale of the land, with the sweetener of `improvements' to Walkden Cricket Club attached.
"We found out about all this more or less by accident" says Shirley Jones who lives on Hill Top Road backing onto the Moss "We didn't know what it was; we tried phoning councillors and the property services, and were just getting vague answers or no answers at all. Then we found out later that they'd been negotiating for two years with this company and had got to the stage where they guaranteed them six month exclusivity on the site should the proposal go ahead. Now we think it's pretty bad that residents of Salford are only given two weeks and yet they give the company the courtesy of two years and another six months to get their plans together."
When all this came out, another resident, Derek Barlow, couldn't believe what he was hearing… "Apparently it's been going on underhanded for two years but we've only just found out. But this is a proper meadow-type environment with lots of different grasses and shrubs. Even Salford Council described it as a wildlife corridor for Blackleach Country Park and there's recreation and football pitches on it that are used all the time."
Indeed, the newly formed Residents and Friends of Hill Top Moss have sent an open letter to David Lancaster stating all the Council's policies documenting the area as lying within the boundary of Blackleach Country Park (Map 15 of the Salford Greenspace Strategy, if anyone wants to check).
As the letter points out, Blackleach, incorporating Hill Top Moss, forms part of a wildlife corridor and is also protected as a recreational space… "We are quite frankly shocked at the Council's blatant disregard of its own policies, which we believe have been put in place to protect the land for not only the enjoyment of local residents but also of the vast amounts of flora, and fauna that reside and travel through it", the letter adds.
Shirley Jones wrote to the Council ten years ago enquiring about the possibility of buying some of the land. She's passed to Salford Star the reply from Salford Council which states categorically that the sale was refused "on the grounds that the land was acquired by the City Council for the purpose of public recreation and open space" (see photo)
Shirley was also on the committee that created Blackleach Country Park in 1991… "I know that this was, and still is, attached to the Country Park scheme" she explains "They said that as soon as they'd done with the reservoir and the visitor centre they would start on the Moss and it was down as recreational use for some kind of equestrian centre."
"The Council says it will discuss everything when it gets to planning stage but we don't want it to get to the planning stage, we think it should be considered at this point not further down the line when it might be too late" Shirley adds "To us this isn't available to be sold off. It's like the green at the front of the Country Park - they tried to do the same with that and we stopped them. It's public open space land."
Meanwhile, residents and those who use the area have already begun the campaign to save the Moss with a 400 signature petition signed within the two weeks that they had to object to the statutory notice.
"Obviously we're all objecting" says resident Jennifer Waring "There's enough brown field land without them ruining the countryside. This area, including the football and cricket field, actually belongs to Blackleach Country Park and it should be a sport and leisure area so how can they build on it? I don't think a lot of the Council at all because they always override people every time anyone has any objections"
Pam Mathieson agrees… "There's notices in Hope Hospital and in Heart Foundation places for people to come to Blackleach to see all the wildlife and so forth but it's all going to go" she says "The wildlife comes across here constantly and once that's gone there'll be nothing."
"This is a wildlife corridor and it's just mindless to wreck it" says Derek Barlow
The Residents and Friends of Hill Top Moss group is now fighting on two fronts – the sale of protected land and what they call the `underhand' process of that sale.
Urban Vision is adamant that everything is above board. In a letter to Shirley Jones, the company's Associate Director states: "There are two stages of approval, firstly on the terms for disposal, secondly determination of the planning application. Terms for the disposal have been provisionally agreed and approved by the Deputy City Mayor but this approval is subject to the advertisement of the possible disposal of open space and the terms are subject to planning consent being obtained.
"We have agreed to enter into an Exclusivity Agreement for a period of six months to allow the developer to work proposals up" he adds "This has not yet been signed and will only be signed once full consideration has been given to the comments received on the advertisement of the possible disposal of the open space."
Shirley, however, is not so sure… "They keep saying that they have met their legal obligations but have they? I suspect not!" she says "Is it enough to simply say that they've met their legal obligations and so are not prepared to go any further for Salford residents, when clearly this out of town developer has been granted every courtesy going...meetings, correspondence, everything, and have had two years to consider their options? What did residents get? Two weeks and information slow in being made available and at times not at all, leaving us to find it out for ourselves."
This fight for open space land and against Salford Council's seemingly cosy relationship with developers is set to run and run...