THERE’S been another twist in the fight to save Newbury FC from eviction as West Berkshire Council, which wants to demolish the ground, has recognised its community value.
The council has been trying to evict Newbury FC from Faraday Road so it can press ahead with its long-desired and controversial plan to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE).
The council has appointed St Modwen as its preferred developer and had wanted to kick the club out in June 2016.
But, following a public outcry, the council promised to review the timing of the club’s eviction and subsequently offered a two-year extension to the lease, until June 2018 – which is when the council said work to redevelop the estate was likely to begin.
Now campaigners fighting to save the ground could stage a dramatic comeback as the council has listed it as an Asset of Community Value.
The listing means the council must allow community groups a chance to bid for the ground.
Newbury Community Football Group said that the decision would further complicate the council’s plans to demolish the ground without providing a replacement site.
Spokesman Lee McDougall, said: “We are delighted West Berkshire Council has formally recognised the community value of the ground following a robust review and the legal process.
“Should the council decide to sell the land our intention is to purchase the ground and ensure it is fully accessible to the community.
“We are working closely with Berks & Bucks FA and Sport England, who have already identified a chronic lack of football pitches in West Berkshire to support the demand from the community.”
The group now has six weeks to express an interest in bidding followed by a six-month period to raise the cash.
During this period, the council cannot sell the ground on the open market.
A spokesman for West Berkshire Council, Martin Dunscombe, said: “An application was made to register the football ground and was subsequently considered by West Berkshire Council.
“We were satisfied it met the criteria and as such have added it to our list of assets.
“If the owner puts the asset up for sale community groups will be given the opportunity to bid for it.”
The bid could fall flat though as the council is not obliged to sell the ground and does not have to give first refusal to the community.
James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria) added that he didn’t see the right to bid posing an issue with the council’s redevelopment plans.
The twist is the latest in a series of turns to hit the future of the ground and the estate.
The council granted developer Faraday Development’s Limited (FDL) planning permission to redevelop the estate.
However, it failed to renew the plans in 2014, around the same time that it announced St Modwen as its chosen partner.
FDL then appealed the decision, with the Planning Inspectorate saying this year that council planning officers had seemingly mislead councillors.
And in January 2015 the council’s chief executive officer, Nick Carter, said that the council did not intend to close the club without a suitable replacement site being found.
The council then u-turned and said it was not duty bound to find another site but would assist in whatever way it could.
FDL also challenged the council appointing St Modwen; but the High Court ruled that the council did not act illegally.