Tue, 18 Sept 2018
“THATCHAM FC can get all the way to Wembley – and in Newbury, it seems we can’t even have a viable football ground any more.”
That was the despondent view from one Newbury town councillor as her fellow members raised no objection to dismantling the spectator stand at Newbury FC’s former Faraday Road ground – for the benefit of a neighbouring football club.
Last month, Hungerford FC submitted plans to demolish the spectator stand at the Faraday Road ground and re-erect it at their own home in Bulpit Lane.
The application was submitted shortly after Newbury FC’s 55-year stay at Faraday Road came to an end in June, when West Berkshire Council refused to extend the club’s lease.
The council wants to replace the ground with flats as part of its wider plan to regenerate the London Road Industrial Estate and is currently carrying out safety checks ahead of its development for a free-to-use, multi-use games area.
A spokesperson from West Berkshire Council confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that the report’s findings were still being finalised.
But when members of a rather depleted Newbury Town Council planning and highways committee met earlier this week, they were instructed to analyse Hungerford FC’s proposal “purely in planning terms” – and not in light of recent events at the Faraday Road site.
Six committee members were absent from the meeting.
It is believed Hungerford FC, who play at a higher level than Newbury FC in National League South, require a stand to fulfil league requirements.
But Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) – who are a separate entity to Newbury FC – view the stand as an integral part of the footballing infrastructure at the Faraday Road ground.
Members heard from NCFG’s deputy chairman John Stewart on why the stand should remain.
Mr Stewart said: “This application to remove or dismantle the stand changes the site’s current use as a football ground.
“It’s been awkward that another football club wants to acquire it, but it’s part of the football ground we are trying to protect.”
Mr Stewart also stressed that The FA and Sport England – whose aim is to build a foundation of community sports in England – were objecting to the application.
Elizabeth O’Keefe (Lib Dem, Victoria) raised strong objections to the proposal, amid fears football in Newbury was stagnating compared with other clubs in the area.
Speaking of the stand itself, Mrs O’Keefe said: “Hungerford Football Club want to take this asset.
“Thatcham Football Club can get all the way to Wembley and in Newbury, it seems we can’t even have a viable football ground anymore.”
But Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill) said he would “personally have no objection” if Hungerford could gain from having the available stand.
He also downplayed the importance of Sport England’s objection, suggesting it carried limited weight.
Mr Beck said: “Sport England might have what I might term a ‘technical objection’ to this proposal.
“To me, it is a bit of a technical fudge and not something of paramount importance.”
But Mrs O’Keefe hit back, saying: “I don’t think this is a technical fudge. Sport England’s objection is quite pertinent.
“Why should we hand one of our football assets over to Hungerford to support them?
“We’re here to support Newbury.”
The Lib Dem’s objection to the proposal did not carry, which resulted in members voting no objection, with Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) abstaining.