Hall demolition not the end of residents’ fight

The public inquiry into Formby Hall, which has found the popular community hub can be demolished

The public inquiry into Formby Hall, which has found the popular community hub can be demolished

Residents say their battle to discover the truth about the sale of a popular hall is not over after an inquiry found it could be demolished.

Atherton Residents’ Association (ARA) claims Wigan Council failed to uphold its own policies when selling Formby Hall and is demanding a replacement community facility is provided.

The bulldozers will come but that won’t stop us uncovering what actually went on.

Stuart Gerrard

As was widely expected planning inspector Martin Whitehead found the bulldozing of the Alder Street venue could go ahead as wider questions about its past could not be taken into consideration.

The verdict has sparked a war of words, with Wigan Council leader Lord Peter Smith accusing Bolton West MP Chris Green of wasting taxpayers’ money and being politically motivated.

Lord Smith said: “This was clearly a political decision by Chris Green MP to have the application called in to the Secretary of State and I feel one which unfairly raised hopes among the local community.

“This call in process which has lasted almost a year was a waste of public money and time and one which Chris Green should accept responsibility for.

“We intend to pursue the government for the cost.”

ARA chair Stuart Gerrard hit out at Lord Smith for his comments and defended the actions of Conservative backbencher Mr Green.

Mr Gerrard said: “Mr Green listened to the 5,000 people who signed a petition to save the hall while the council sat idly by and ignored us.

“The bulldozers will come but that won’t stop us uncovering what actually went on. Anyone with an ounce of sense will see something’s not right.

“If the council has nothing to hide it should hand over the information we have asked for.

“We will also be pushing it to abide by its own Core Strategy which states the hall must be replaced. The people of Atherton hope the council will step in and rectify this wrong.

“The decision is disappointing but not expected. It wasn’t looking at the actual sales process which I firmly believe was under hand.”

ARA gave evidence at the inquiry, which found the method of demolition for Formby Hall was appropriate.

Bolton West MP Mr Green said: “This is a disappointing decision but one not completely unexpected. I am convinced that if the inspector had had the power to look at how a much-loved community hall could have been left under Wigan Council to go to rack and ruin and then sold in such an underhand manner, then he may have found cause for concern.

“I would like to pay tribute to the hard work by local people, ARA and Coun Jamie Hodgkinson without whom we wouldn’t have been able to take this campaign as far as we have.

“This is yet another example of our town being dismantled and sold off by this Labour-run Wigan Council. Formby Hall was a much-loved and well-used community hub and it will be heart-breaking to see it knocked down.”