ANXIOUS residents stood shoulder to shoulder as battle plans were drawn up to protect five popular lodges.

Nearly 300 people packed into Bolton Road Sports Club, Bury, on Sunday (Sept 2) to voice concerns for the Cockey Moor and Whitehead lodges.

The lodges,in Starling and Ainsworth, are part of a £1.5 million land package being sold by owners of the Elton Cop Dyeing Works, which closed in January.

Conservationists fear the picturesque reservoirs could be drained by a future owner and become a target for developers.

The meeting saw strong support expressed for organisers, the Friends of Cockey Moor and Whitehead Lodges, who aim to have the lodges recognised as a local nature reserve. They say that the lodges are a haven for kingfisher and heron.

Chairman Elaine Shirt said the group would fight to the "bitter end" for their futures, and asked for guarantees about their protection from Bury Council. She told the audience: "We have a passion for the area and we want to preserve it.

"As yet the land and the lodges have not been sold and there are no plans to do anything with them. However, there is nothing to stop a future developer buying the land and draining the lodges.

"What we're doing is pre-empting the situation. It is vital that we act sooner rather than later."

Bury Council planning officer Brian Daniel told the audience that although nothing could be done to prevent the drainage, the land was protected from development under the council's land use plan, green belt legislation and protected river valley status.

Mr Daniel said: "There are very few parts of Bury which are as well protected as those lodges.

"As far as redevelopment is concerned, the possibility of putting houses and factories on the site is just nonsense. They don't stand a cat in hell's chance of being recommended for approval."

The landowners have contacted the council about taking on ownership of the lodge areas, but the money required for civil insurance liabilities remained a sticking point, said Mr Daniel. Future progress would depend upon the outcome of these discussions and the nature of a report on the site's wildlife, which is expected from the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit this week, he added.

Mr Daniel said: "If those elements can be knitted together then I'm pretty sure that we would be able to put a package together to bid for money for management of the site."

A spokesman for site owners the ITP Group confirmed that the company had been in discussion with members of the local community about the lodges.

He said: "They will be kept informed on all future news on this matter."

A future meeting is planned at the sports club on November 1, at 7.30pm.