HUNDREDS of people gathered at a well used park to issue an impassioned plea to Bolton Council to keep its hands off their land.

Keen cyclists, sports teams, young and old gathered armed with placards at the entrance of the Leverhulme Park to oppose controversial plans to create a cycle track in the popular park.

Placards illustrated what would be lost if the "beautiful" green space was asphalted over.

The 450-strong crowd urged to council chiefs to reconsider the plans which they say would devastate the land for the community — and do cycling in Bolton a huge disservice.

Claire Phillips, who lives in Tonge Fold, said: "This protest is a small indication about how strongly people object to this facility.

"The message to the council is that they have chosen the wrong area for the cycling of excellence.

"It is 200 metres short to hold regional events and 400 m short for national competitions.

"Even if British Cycling changed the requirements we don't have the infrastructure to host the events."

She added: "We are not against having a cycling track in Bolton and everybody here wants the best for Bolton and will to do everything they can to work with the council to provide a centre of excellence for cycling.

"A track here would be a disservice to cycling, we don't want to do that."

Lauren Bailey-Rhodes, aged 36, who lives in Breightmet, said: "When I first heard about the plans, I was upset that the council wanted to take away this beautiful green space that is used daily and by so many people to walk their dogs, play sport. It is just ludicrous."

Protestors say that the plans will lead to sports teams having to move to other less suitable grounds.

Tracy Lowe, who is captain of the Lower Pools Rounders Team said: "The pitch we are moving to is said to be unsuitable for the cycling track because it is too boggy but we are supposed to play there.

"It is awful and I don't know if the team will continue, it's horrendous."

Residents said that green spaces were essential for the wellbeing of the community.

Joan Roberts, aged 66, from Breightmet, said: "This is our green space.

"My husband and I cycle there, it is good for your health. It is our park, a park for the community, young and old.”

Others said the park which has been used by generations of the same family would be lost forever with children being forced to play closer to the roadside.

Joyce Perry, aged 74, said: "At what expense are they going to build this track, it brings the community together.”

Barbara Worthington, aged 68, added: "This land is not for Bolton Council to take of us."

Keen cyclist George Owen, aged 62, from Tonge Fold, said: "It is not the case we are opposing a cycle track, we are upset because they are taking away a green space and there must be better venues."

Sean Hornby, councillor for Little Lever and Darcy Lever, said: "is is a very controversial application, more so than previous application and the people feel this is the wrong location for it.

"The planning application states that it will take up a seventh of the park but in actual fact is more like a third of Leverhulme Park, which people see facing Long Lane and Blenheim Road.

"I asked the council to defer the application for a month so it could be consulted on further but I was told no."

He added: "Bolton is associated with cycling because of Jason Kenny.

"Why not have it on the old running track at Harper Green, it would help regenerate the area and will be in the hometown of the Jason Kenny."

Neil Duffield, from the Darcy Lever Residents’ Association, which helped organise the protest, said: "The turnout is brilliant, a lot of people have worked hard and it shows the feeling of people around here."