|The Lancashire Evening Post, Thursday, 12th February 2009|
CITY leaders are planning a land grab to take complete ownership of Winckley Square, it can be revealed today.
Letters have been sent from Preston Council to the other owners of the Georgian garden, threatening Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).
Currently, the council owns just half of the square, with the rest split between five other owners.
The fear is that any one of these parties could give six months' notice to the council and fence off their part of the square, something which would prove a stumbling block for attracting funding for a revamp of the square.
The council has written to the owners, saying it wants to transfer the gardens into civic ownership.
But Fr Chris Dyckhoff from St Wilfrid's Church, who represents one of the owners - the Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes - said their solicitor had written back asking for more information.
He said: "Our concern is to preserve the square in its present form, but look after it and care for it and keep it the green oasis it is in the heart of Preston."
Council leader Ken Hudson said: "They've all received a letter and it's a case of whether they want to transfer the gardens to us or we have to go down a different route."
Mike Brogan, assistant director of city projects at Preston Council, said two of the owners had responded so far-but he added issuing CPOs was a "last resort".
He said: "The ownership issue has to be resolved, irrespective of any scheme.
"We all want to maintain it as a park. If that means renegotiating the deals, that's fine.
"We would always try and negotiate land deals... but CPO is always there in the background.
"We have really got to progress to an agreed solution that everyone can buy into."
English Heritage is currently investigating whether Winckley Square should be added to its list of historic parks and gardens which means planners would have to offer more sensitivity in relation to any changes.
The Preston and South Ribble Civic Trust, which made the request, hopes to hear whether it has been successful next month. A planning application for the £3m revamp of the square is due to be submitted in April.
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|© The Lancashire Evening Post, February 2009|