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Sport England objects to Sports Hub plan at Newbury Rugby Club's Monks Lane ground

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Sport England has criticised West Berkshire Council over its proposal for the Monks Lane Sports Hub.

It says it is impossible to have confidence that the facility at Newbury Rugby Club will be beneficial to the grassroots football community at an affordable rate.

And it has now lodged a ‘holding objection’ to the scheme.

Newbury Rugby Club's Monks Lane ground
Newbury Rugby Club's Monks Lane ground

“There is no detail on the programme of usage, despite requesting this detail, numerous times from the council and that there is no detail on the pricing policy for the facility, including usage during evenings for training and match play at weekends,” said Sport England in its response to the planning application.

“In addition there appears to have been minimal consultation with Newbury FC, who were the primary users of Faraday Road.

“The club have not been made aware of the pricing policy, and have expressed concerns over the affordability of the facility.

“No agreement or commitment from the club to use this facility is in place. Not only does this impact the business plan and raises further doubts over the sustainability of the facility, but also brings into question whether this is a suitable replacement if the facility is not accessible.”

Costs to run the proposed football ground at Monks Lane in Newbury have just emerged with a business plan being added to the planning application made on behalf of West Berkshire.

Read more: concerns over parking at Monks Lane

It projects running costs of around £180,000 a year – which include £41,000 a year rent for 40 years from West Berkshire Council to the rugby club to use part of the plot for football – or £4.4m over the term.

Sport England considered that the rent was high. Figures not contained in the business plan, and excluded from the press and public in executive committee papers are said to include a six-figure lease premium sum to be paid to the rugby club as well.

The business case also suggests the council will effectively underwrite any operating cost deficits by up to £90,000 a year.

Sport England went on: “What is the rationale of the WBC revenue support at £90k and how long is this agreement in place? This presents a major risk if this were to be reduced or removed. Over the 40 year lease period and excluding any inflationary increases, this as minimum would equate to £3.6m, which would be much better spent on addressing the facility needs across West Berkshire.”

West Berkshire Council executive portfolio holder for leisure Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn) said he was "astonished" at Sport England’s response.

“This is beyond me,” he said. “We have consulted with all the football clubs and extensively with Sport England.”

The matter is likely to be decided at West Berkshire Council’s Conservative majority executive committee in December.

The business case has been branded as ‘cavalier’ and ‘inadequate’ by a local community football group which is saying the public is “being fobbed off with a sub standard solution”.

“I just do not understand why this is being pushed forward,” said Paul Morgan of the Newbury Community Football Group. “This is just being imposed without talking to the people who would use such a facility.”

His group wants the Faraday Road pitch – currently disused – to come back on line.

The Rugby Football Union is also questioning the validity of the plan and asks why costs to replace the pitch each decade, costing around £30,000, are not included.

The application form submitted in August by Alliance Leisure Services (on behalf of West Berkshire Council) describes the proposal as “a single-story sports pavilion building and car park providing facilities and social space to support a proposed artificial turf pitch”.

No details have yet been made public with respect to how much the pitch and pavilion will cost.

Nor have details of tenders been revealed but costs are said to be in the region of £2m.

Tenders to bid to build the site are now out.

West Berkshire Council will be including these new facilities within a new leisure management contract and each leisure operator will be required to submit a business plan for the operation of the Newbury Sports Hub, alongside a marketing plan and their history of operating similar 3G pitches.

“The Monks Lane Sports Hub proposal is not a replacement football facility for the current football ground at Faraday Road,” added Mr Morgan.

“It’s being billed as a Sports Hub, not a football ground, there will be conflict between rugby and football usage, it’s too small, in the wrong location and not a football ground that can support and meet the ambitions and aspirations of men’s and ladies’ teams in Newbury, senior men’s and ladies’ teams and the wider football community.

“This proposal has been agreed and determined, behind closed doors, by West Berkshire Council and Newbury Rugby Club. Why?”

West Berkshire Council’s own Playing Pitch Strategy states the district is short of seven full-sized pitches and has a shortage of secure/accessible grass football and rugby pitches.

The planning application does not state Monks Lane is a replacement for the existing football ground at Faraday Road.

However, the council has not submitted a planning application to change the use of the ground at Faraday Road and all previous planning applications made by the council since 2018 on the football ground have been withdrawn.

There is no evident timescale set for when it will submit a planning application and the chances of it obtaining planning permission to build on the disused pitch at Faraday Road has been described as a ‘massive gamble’ by campaigners who want that site reopened until football provision is fully worked through.

West Berkshire Council has confirmed that any re-development of the Faraday Road stadium will not commence until the completion of the proposed facilities at Newbury Rugby Club.

The London Road Industrial Estate, which is primed for redevelopment is also plagued with delay.

Attempts to develop the old Newbury Weekly News building, which is next to the Faraday Road pitch, fell down as the site was considered to be in a flood zone.

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