Newbury Showground latest: Crunch meeting for members of the Newbury and District Agricultural Society
Next week, members of the Newbury and District Agricultural Society will have the opportunity to vote on the ‘biggest decision in its history’.
The society wants to sell the freehold of Newbury Showground, or part of it, to help balance the books after falling into financial difficulty.
The 177-acre site, which is located in a prime spot at the crossroads of the M4 and A34 at Chieveley, has been home to the Royal County of Berkshire Show since 1984.
However, substantial six figure losses from the 2018 and 2019 shows, combined with a fall in showground lettings income, a large bank loan and the reduction in free cash reserves meant even before the pandemic the society’s finances were "not in good shape".
The society added that the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 shows due to the pandemic then "made things much worse".
In March this year, the Newbury Weekly News revealed that 17 expressions of interest in the site had been received and that the society had whittled the shortlist down to eight.
In May, the society interviewed the final four interested parties, none of which have been disclosed due to commercial confidentiality.
However, a group of 50 members, led by Great Shefford Parish Council chairman Steve Ackrill, have tabled a vote of no confidence in the board in a last-ditch bid to stop it from being sold.
Mr Ackrill previously told the Newbury Weekly News: “A lot us life members feel the situation hasn’t been handled very well.
“We feel they shouldn’t sell the site, or consider selling it, without proper consultation with the members.”
Those members will get the chance to have their say at an Extraordinary General Meeting, which will take place in the cattle building at the showground this coming Monday, September 13.
The Save Our Showground group is encouraging as many members as possible to attend the meeting and cast their vote.
Only one question will be put to members to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on: “That the Board of Management continue their negotiations to conclude a transaction that secures in their considered opinion best value for all or part of the main asset of the Society, to be achieved by disposal of the main Showground or part thereof, either by way of outright sale or by way of an Option to purchase Agreement.”
Mr Ackrill said: “Whatever the result of the vote is on the 13th, our group will respect that vote and if the members do indeed vote to support the sale of the showground then we will have to accept it as a members vote is what we set out to achieve."
However, he says the board have claimed they are not obliged to respect the members vote and that they will make the final decision.
He added: “We hope that we will not have to resort to law but should the members vote be against a sale and the Board still insist on going ahead with a sale then our group is ready and willing to obtain a court injunction to uphold the motions of our EGM.”
A society spokesperson previously said that selling the site was one option, but the preference would be to look at ways it can “maximise revenue”.
They added that the priority was to secure the long-term future of both the society and the showground and that it would be “negligent” not to explore all the ways it could achieve that.