CONTROVERSIAL town hall plans to sell a Salford community garden to developers are set to be put on hold – for now.

Walkden residents were outraged over council plans to sell a piece of land on East Philips Street to developers. Locals said the plot was used as a community garden by locals.

Walkden ward councillors demanded that the sale – which had been agreed behind closed doors – face further scrutiny at a public meeting in April.

Now the council is expected to halt the plan, and hand the site over to the community for 12 months.

Documents going before councillors next week said: “The community will be given the opportunity to secure funding / develop proposals further and the council will have flexibility to review options in 12 months time.”

It’s not clear from the report which group would oversee the management.

Local councillors who called for the decision to be re-examined supported the move.

Councillor Richard Critchley told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I am delighted that the council is looking to give residents an opportunity to take on this vacant land. The site has tremendous potential to become a stunning public green space.  

“Volunteers have already demonstrated their commitment to this project and I have no doubt that they will create something fantastic for the whole community to enjoy,” he added.

Fellow Walkden councillor Stephen Coen who – alongside coun Critchley and coun John Warmisham – called in the decision for further scrutiny said the space was already being well-used by locals.

He told the LDRS: “The local residents have really worked hard on this green space, and the fruits of their labour is indeed bearing fruit! The orchard has apples, pears and attracting and increasing amount of birds, this location adjacent to the river Irwell is an oasis of tranquillity, that improves with every month thanks to the efforts of volunteers. 

“There is an unconfirmed sighting of otters in this location, which is a welcome sign of pollution levels falling in the Irwell,” he added.

Coun Critchley added  that residents should ‘always be consulted’ when deciding the future of any green space in the city.

“We must protect and enhance our existing public areas and that will mean working with community groups to ensure that all options have been explored to secure their future,” he said.

The town hall had sparked anger among local residents when it was revealed that the space – which includes the Blackfriars Forest Garden – was to be sold to Urban Splash.

Coun Critchley had said during the public meeting earlier this year that there had been ‘absolutely no openness’ in the original decision to dispose of the land.

He said at the time: “Neighbouring residents weren’t consulted, businesses that will be affected by this weren’t consulted. The group that works in the neighbouring mill weren’t consulted. The community wasn’t consulted,” he said.

He added: “Everyone who put their time and effort into building the site and maintaining it – none of them were told or consulted about the sale.”

The ‘Blackfriars Forest Garden’ was created with the council’s backing by the Biospheric Foundation.

The aim of the project was to transform a disused printworks, and land next to it, into an ‘urban farm’ with chickens, allotments, a fishery and an orchard.

The project collapsed in 2016.

The papers going before next week’s property and regeneration meeting said that the condition of the site is already much improved after the community has held a number of clean-ups.

Councillors will consider four different options on the table.

These include:

– going ahead with the sale to Urban Splash

– sell the plot to Urban Splash when redevelopment proposals have advanced

– retain the space for use by the community

– retain the space for community use for a 12 month period and then subject to review

The report is recommending that the councillors approve the fourth option.