Eco-warriors camp for seven MONTHS in battle to save beauty from bulldozer
Protesters camped for seven months in the latest twist in a 25-year battle to save a Manchester beauty spot.
Ryebank Fields in Chorlton has been the center of a bitter struggle to stop new development for a quarter of a century.
Activists have now built a camp with a tower, an eco house and a kitchen which has been manned around the clock since April 24.
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Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has owned the green space since the 1970s after it was donated by City Council for use as a sports ground.
The university has been planning to sell the land for housing since 1996 and put it up for sale last year, despite an investigation revealing hazardous materials.
The eco-demonstrators call on the bosses of the universities to keep the district in green space.
Paul Harnett of the Friends of Ryebank Fields campaign group told MEN: “Personally, I camped here in the winter and it’s no fun.
“I actually think it was the coldest I have ever been in my life.”
Paul, who is also running in the Chorlton by-election as an independent candidate, said the camp was set up in April after protesters put up a “symbolic ring of protection”.
Some 500 ‘hikers’ walked Hayfield to Kinder Scout in the Peak District to show how walkers in England and Wales were denied access to open areas.
Paul added, “We started with tents, but we are aware that tents are easily kicked out, so about five months ago we built this tower.
“It’s a permanent structure and someone has slept here every night – several times by MMU students.”
The tower stands at the entrance to Longford Road at Ryebank Fields and stands over 6 feet tall.
Paul said: “The reason it’s high is that if an eviction were to take place, if you were more than 6 feet from the ground, the police would need specialized teams to evict you.
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“Everything is legal. There is a legal notice on the tower, there is also a legal notice on the house.
Despite this, the camp remained on Ryebank Fields for approximately seven months.
Dozens of Chorlton residents have also joined the fight to save beauty.
Tara Parry said: “We are supporting the tower and protecting it.
“The university received this land free of charge for sporting purposes.
“We put in a declaration of intent what we would like to do with the fields, if we could own them.
“Their complaint was that there was no cash value, we didn’t talk about buying the fields.
“They got them for free, so we basically said we’ll pay you double what you paid for it.”
The activists want to make it a community space with ecological trails, workshops and a forestry school.
Friends of Ryebank Fields claim the land is unsuitable for development after an investigation found hazardous materials.
But MMU said the “majority of the asbestos” had been dug up due to bad weather and continued use of the site by the public.
soil erosion caused by weather conditions and continued use of the site by the public.
Tara said: “And if it was dug up and hauled through our streets, you know it with the three primary schools nearby.
“What are they going to do? Dig a hole in another field and put it somewhere else?”
Chorlton local Siobhan Casey described the land as a “lifeline” for her family during the lockdown.
She told MEN: “We walked there two, three times a day.
“It was a savior, to be able to just walk into that area and just watch the birds.
“I think it should be left to the care of the community, should be left as is.
“It’s one of the city’s green lungs.
A spokesperson for MMU urged activists to stay away from the site.
A spokesperson for the university said: “We are aware of the presence of tents and other structures at the site.
“We have repeatedly advised members of the public not to enter the site due to potential health and safety risks.
“Ryebank Fields is private land and any unauthorized access constitutes an act of trespassing.
“Ryebank Fields is an integral part of Manchester City Council’s housing plans for the Chorlton area.
“The development framework was consulted and adopted for the site in July 2019.
“Following its adoption, the offers for the site were to be for the land purposes set out in the development framework.
“At no time before or during the consultation on the development framework did the Friends of Ryebank Fields group make an offer to purchase the land from us.
“They have asked to receive the land for free, which we cannot accept given our charitable status and our requirement to get the best value for the disposal of any assets we own.
“In addition, they have not provided any plans, or shown that they have the necessary funds, to manage the site for the long term.
“This is important given the presence of asbestos on the fields of Ryebank.
“Our reports show that asbestos has risen to the surface due to soil erosion caused by weather conditions and continued use of the site by the public.
“That’s why we asked the public to stay off the site.
“As this will be an ongoing problem unless the site is rehabilitated, anyone wishing to purchase the site will need to either come up with plans to renovate the site or have the funds to actively manage their long-term risks.