Marathon man Patrick Martin is the latest top athlete to throw his weight behind the campaign to save Herrington’s West Park from becoming a potential site for future homes.
The former Sunderland Harrier, now living in Manchester, follows in the footsteps of England football captain Jordan Henderson and Olympic medal-winning boxer Tony Jeffries in backing the drive to persuade council bosses to drop the park from a list of potential housing developments in the city.
The site is one of 15 identified by Sunderland City Council as a possible location for future housing development.
The authority says 13,824 more homes are needed across the city by 2033, but civic leaders have emphasised the proposals are currently at the consultation stage and nothing is definite.
Patrick Martin spent more than 10 years as a member of Sunderland Harriers and now runs for their Stockport namesakes.
He has represented both Great Britain and England and this year won the Manchester Marathon.
Having West Park available to us helped my brother and me stay fit and healthy and to spend our time at the weekends doing something healthy and worthwhile. Having the park so near to where we lived was key to encouraging us to get out there and do our training.Patick Martin
“Growing up in East Herrington, my brother Jack, another GB and England representative, and I would use West Park field every Saturday morning for at least five years,” he said.
“Training there meant spending one to two hours following our coach’s instructions to carry out drills and use the paths around the edge to carry out running efforts.
“I have very fond memories of training here as a youngster. Having facilities like West Park on my door step was the perfect place to develop my interest and skill in athletics.
“Having West Park available to us helped my brother and me stay fit and healthy and to spend our time at the weekends doing something healthy and worthwhile. Having the park so near to where we lived was key to encouraging us to get out there and do our training.
“Now that I’m a primary school teacher, I can see through my teaching and coaching how important it is for children to have access to safe, green and most importantly local spaces in which to play.
“I would find it very sad, and a backward step, if the council were to take away such an important and historical local amenity - which should be preserved for future generations.
“Plans to build housing on West Park are shortsighted as the short term financial gain for the council is negligible to the cost of this lost amenity for the local community which this council supposedly serves.”
Council bosses have repeatedly emphasised that the West Park proposal is precisely that and no decisions have been made.
Iain Fairlamb, head of planning and regeneration at Sunderland City Council, said: “At this stage the consultation is just that, none of the proposals are set in stone and we very much want to hear the views of local people.
“The plans have been developed in response to the need for homes to house the city’s growing population.
“We need a minimum of 13,800 new homes by 2033 to meet our housing needs in accordance with Government methodology.
“Following extensive research to identify where future homes could be built, we have been unable to identify enough land in existing communities to meet the need.
“So we have had to consider a small number of sites which have not previously been developed which are currently in the green belt.”