Hurt and anger as Alder Hey park row rumbles on

‘Famous last words’ is a phrase that is thrown around all too easily these days. 

In the case of Springfield Park, however, it feels rather pertinent at the moment. The row over the handing back of 9.4 hectares of land in Knotty Ash is a battle that has been waged for more than a decade.

As part of a land exchange agreement with Liverpool Council made in 2012, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital is obligated to return the park in full to the city following the completion of the state of the art new facility back in 2015. Campaigners have been fighting to get the entirety of the park ever since, with the former Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson also telling all parties they needed to get a move on last year.

Further grit in the wheels of progress gathered in September 2021 when Liverpool Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead for homes around the site. It was revealed last month how the number of homes and assisted living facilities put forward by applicant Step Places was going down but the firm is seeking to increase the amount of retirement apartments.

This didn’t stop residents, however, and in a hot-tempered meeting on a cold night in December last year, John Grinnell, deputy chief executive of Alder Hey, issued a public apology to campaigners for the first time for the years of delay. He said: “On behalf of the hospital, I’d like to apologise for the delays incurred in giving the park back.

“There’s been a significant delay on you not being able to enjoy the park as you wanted to. We are sorry.”

Mr Grinnell told the packed public meeting how the hospital was investing £6m into getting the park back into shape for the community. He added: “If this hasn’t been delivered by this time next year, we will have failed you.”

Given the events of the last few days, it would be fair to wager the deputy CEO would want to take those sentiments back. On Thursday, the hospital trust confirmed it would not meet its own backstop deadline of November this year owing to complications surrounding the demolition of its former Catkin outpatient building.

The trust said asbestos had been discovered under the site meaning work that was expected to be completed no later than February would now more likely be done in December. Additionally, it said removal of the existing playground on the site would not take place until January 2024 and new football pitches will have to remain covered until next August. 

An update posted on Thursday said: “Although the majority of the park will be returned in 2023, we appreciate how frustrating it is that the above will run into next year. We remain grateful for your continued patience and will continue to do all we can to complete the entire park redevelopment as soon as possible.

“Our commitment remains to create a high-quality park that can be enjoyed by all and one that you all deserve.” The news came as a hammer blow to campaigners.

A spokesperson for the Friends of Springfield Park (FoSP) group said: “We are disappointed with the dates, the fact that developers Swales are in our park and that the community isn’t getting the full size pitches we were promised. FoSP have stated the communities position on both of these things and the fact that the views of the community are being ignored is deeply concerning.”

The park now lies within the newly drawn ward boundary of Sandfield Park. Cllr Joanne Kennedy said it was “frustrating” for the park to be hit by more delays. 

She said: “It’s great to see that progress is being made on-site at Springfield Park and that long-standing issues around play equipment and lighting is being resolved, with lighting for the multi use games area due to be installed by the end of this month. This is something that I have been pushing for alongside our amazing friends group. 

“However, it’s bitterly disappointing that another target has not been met to handover Springfield Park to our community. While I acknowledge and understand there are unforeseen circumstances surrounding the demolition of the remaining Alder Hey site, it is frustrating that our community will not have our full park back until 2024.”

Amid the frustration being expressed by campaigners, there was some pushback from Alder Hey officials. On Twitter, Tracie Cousineau, a project manager at the hospital said: “It will arrive when it’s completed and not before. 

“You have to be patient. We get frustrated too when things pop up left, right and centre. If the project goes to plan and we gather momentum then that’s a bonus, but if not, we will just keep revising the dates. We’re not magicians.”

Ms Cousineau said the hospital was “trying our best” and there were “no words that can be used to explain the situation we are in,” citing the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic and “the ever increasing price of materials.”

Earlier this year, Dame Jo Williams, chair of the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust board, said she recognised it had been a “long and extended period of time” for the full park to be handed back to the community. Now, the wait will go on for residents and campaigners that bit longer.

It remains to be seen how Mr Grinnell’s statement seven months ago will resonate with the community going forward.


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