Legal wrangling rears up over land used by pony rescue centre

Residents near the pony rescue centre in Plank Lane are angry about its continued presence in the area despite legal attempts to remove them
Residents near the pony rescue centre in Plank Lane are angry about its continued presence in the area despite legal attempts to remove them

A legal dispute has erupted over the Leigh site of a community horse and pony rescue farm as residents call for action to be taken.

Wigan Council has already taken legal steps to limit the Leigh Horse Rescue Centre and Nature Reserve (LHRCNR) but the group claims it has been the subject of harassment.

“We believe we are helping the community.”

Judith Ripley-Aitchison

The sprawling Plank Lane site, home to more than a dozen equines, is on land owned by the Catholic Church, the council has said.

But LHRCNR organiser Judith Ripley-Aitchison maintains the group has legitimate claims to the location and the project is providing a much-needed boost for the community.

Nearby residents have complained to the Observer, however, that the centre is causing a “real problem” and have urged the town hall to continue its intervention.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure, cultural and property services, said: “Wigan Council is aware of a number of horses being kept on land at Plank Lane.

“The council has already taken court action in respect of ensuring the horses are kept off surrounding land it owns but the remaining horses are situated on land owned by the Liverpool Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Trustees Incorporated.

“The council is assisting the Archdiocese in seeking to secure the removal of the horses which have been brought on to the land without the landowner’s permission and are causing problems for local residents.”

On its Facebook site, LHRCNR is described as a community project handing “people, ponies and places a second chance” and appears to have support from scores of residents.

Several fenced enclosures have been set up on the site adjacent to Plank Lane and fund-raising initiatives have been run by the group.

Mrs Ripley-Aitchison told the Observer she was aware the land is owned by the church but said she had a legitimate claim, details of which would be kept private in case of potential future legal action.

She said: “The land we are using is nothing to do with the council, we are being made the victims of harassment.

“If the church was bothered about what was happening we would have heard something about it by now, we have not heard anything from them, it has all been from the council. If anything, they should be encouraging what we’re doing; it’s a not for profit community project. We believe we are helping the community.”

The Archdiocese has declined the invitation to comment.

One nearby resident, who did not wish to be named, told the Observer: “This ‘centre’ has been a real problem ever since it opened a couple of years ago.

“Basically, she just turned up one day and fenced off the land for herself. There was no planning permission, no consultation. Ever since then it’s been a bit of a nightmare, really.

“There are often big vehicles parked up on the road near the entrance to the centre, which causes problems for traffic.