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Newbury's Faraday Road football ground fire 'almost inevitable', say campaigners

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to see Faraday Road football ground reopened for football have said the fire which destroyed the clubhouse was an “inevitability” due to West Berkshire Council not securing the site.

The ground has become dilapidated and run down since Newbury Football Club’s eviction in the summer of 2018, and was already hit by a suspected arson attack in December 2019 when a portable building and fencing on the site caught fire.

Reacting to last weekend’s fire, Paul Morgan, chairman of the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), said the council, which owns the land, hadn’t looked after the ground properly.

The ruined clubhouse at Newbury's football ground.
The ruined clubhouse at Newbury's football ground.

He said: “My immediate reaction is that it was almost inevitable.

“For the last three years the council have deliberately allowed it to fall into a dilapidated condition – first the stand was removed, then they removed the pitch barrier, and they didn’t secure the ground properly, and people got in.

“We were down here six weeks ago and the council had left the main gates open. We had to put our own padlock on to keep it secure.

The destroyed Faraday Road clubhouse.
The destroyed Faraday Road clubhouse.

“They just weren’t interested in looking after it properly, and it’s inevitable that this happened.

“When you see buildings that aren’t cared for and are unloved, it’s a magnet for vandals.”

However, the council’s executive member for finance Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said security was “perfectly proportionate”.

He said: “To suggest arson is inevitable, if indeed it was arson, is certainly exaggerating the position.

“If there are people determined to gain access to a site, they will probably find a way to do so.

“The security for our site was, in my view, perfectly proportionate, and it’s certainly unfortunate things have happened the way they have.

“Let me just reiterate the point that those buildings would not have been there to set alight, or catch fire, had the council not been frustrated by politically motivated objections to plans to demolish the site.”

The council has said it is seeking advice to ensure the site is now appropriately dealt with, but it has confirmed that it intends to continue with its planning application to demolish the buildings and convert the site into an open recreational space.

The application is due to be heard by the council’s district planning committee on September 8.

NCFG member Lee McDougall is calling for the council to withdraw the application and “work with their local community” to make the site safe and reopen it for organised football.

He said: “In 2018, the ground and clubhouse were fully operational and used every week by members of the public.

“Within two years the ground had become a dangerous risk to the public and within three years, burnt to the ground.

“Now that the circumstances have changed, we call on the council to withdraw their now pointless planning application and work with their local community to arrange for the football pitch to be re-opened for organised football, once the site is safe, as suggested by their own Conservative councillor, Jeff Beck, who represents the ward where the football ground is.

“Low-cost temporary toilets and changing rooms are all that is needed along with pitch markings and goals.

“The council’s own Playing Pitch Strategy states that West Berkshire is seven full-size pitches short.

“Re-opening the Faraday Road football pitch while the seven new pitches are found and built should be a priority.”

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