Exclusive Action group HEART says Peel Group masterplan is smokescreen to build unaffordable housing
An action group believes plans lodged by the Peel Group to transform an area of Bolton parkland into a golf course and hotel fit to host the 2026 Ryder Cup is purely a smokescreen to push through a luxury homes project.
The Peel Group, owned by billionaire John Whittaker, lodged ambitious plans in late 2016 for the historic Hulton Park Estate, which it acquired in 2011 after having spent almost 800 years in the ownership of the Hulton family â€“ the inspiration behind the TV series Downton Abbey.
They included an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse, driving range, academy and shop, 1,036 homes, a 142-bed hotel, spa complex with 150 parking spaces and a restaurant.
In March, Bolton Council's planning committee voted in favour of the proposal eight votes to seven â€“ a decision that reportedly surprised Peel Group representatives and sent shockwaves around the local area.
Community group Hulton Estate Area Residents Together (HEART) has opposed the plans since they were first made public and believe that, given Peel Group's track record and the timescale involved, it's highly unlikely they have any ambition to host the Ryder Cup at all.
"We don't think Peel have any intention of wanting a golf course, let alone the Ryder Cup," Sandra Hesketh, secretary of HEART, told UK Club Golfer. "We think it's a red herring. It's a prime bit of land that they bought seven years ago and they want to build houses on it. End of story.
"They bought a golf course nearby â€“ at Horwich â€“ and already the application has gone in to build houses on it. So there are a lot of emotions right now. Some of it is anger and a lot of people didn't vote in the local elections as a result."
The application is in the process of going before secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire, with HEART members among the thousands of people who have written letters of objection.
"It's a nonsense it even got planning permission," continued Hesketh. "Hulton Park is riddled with coalmines and is totally flooded. How on earth will they have it ready, from scratch, for the Ryder Cup in seven years?
"Either way, we're deeply worried. We don't want, as has happened in the past, this turned from a greenbelt and Grade II-listed parkland site into a brownfield site.
"We think they won't get the Ryder Cup so, when the decision is made, they'll put in a different application that doesn't involve a golf course or luxury hotel."
Councillor Shafaqat Shaikh, who voted against the proposal, added: "For the Ryder Cup to come to Bolton would be great but it's clear the development would be detrimental to the local infrastructure and the residents who live there.
"Farmers' livelihoods would be at stake, not to mention a wonderful area of land popular with the community. The majority of residents are against it and I've voiced my concerns."
The announcement that the 2022 Ryder Cup was to be staged in Italy came in late 2015 â€“ seven years in advance of the match â€“ meaning if similar protocol was to take place this time around, the 2026 Ryder Cup venue would be announced at some point time in 2019.
Adare Manor, owned by billionaire business J.P. McManus, is the hot favourite to stage that match. Having been subject of a wholescale renovation led by world-renowned architect Tom Fazio, the 18-hole championship course is said to be primed to stage tournaments of the highest calibre.