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Council leader kicks out 'sexism' allegations

Local authority did not have a duty to consult the Newbury Ladies FC about the closure of the Faraday Road stadium

Fiona Tomas

Fiona Tomas

fiona.tomas@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886639

Council kicks out 'sexism' allegations

WEST Berkshire Council has denied allegations of sexism over its decision to close the Faraday Road football ground in Newbury.

Newbury Football Club’s 55-year stay at Faraday Road ended in June after the council refused to renew the club’s lease, amid future plans to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE).

The council has held talks with the club over a possible move to Northcroft playing fields in the long-term.

In November, the manager of Newbury Ladies FC criticised the district council over what she described as a lack of interest in the women’s game.

Sue Hewett slammed the “joint approach” between West Berkshire Council and Newbury FC and raised fears that it could compromise the needs of other football teams who play in the area – including her own women’s outfit.

In an open letter to the Newbury Weekly News, Ms Hewett also questioned whether the local authority could “really be that sexist” to think the game was only played by men.

But that allegation was shut down by West Berkshire Council’s leader Graham Jones at an executive meeting on Thursday, December 20.

Mr Jones said the council did not have a duty to consult the Newbury Ladies football team about the closure of the Faraday Road football stadium – simply because the club were never part of the site’s tenancy agreement.

This, the leader of the council argued, did not constitute a sexist mindset within the council.  

Newbury Ladies FC falls under the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), which has been campaigning against the closure of the town’s football ground at Faraday Road.

Addressing Newbury Ladies FC secretary Jack Harkness, who raised the subject, Mr Jones said: “The correspondence over the end date of the football lease was between the council as the landlord and the football club as the tenant.

 “The council has no other tenancy or access arrangements with any other entities and thus inadvertently the ladies’ football club to play at the ground, or other entities, does not mean that there is any issue of sexism involved.”

The district council also reiterated its intention to convert the former stadium into a multi-use games area (MUGA), all but denying the possibility that the site will be reopened to any of the town’s football teams for league fixtures.

The council’s portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, leisure and culture, Rick Jones, (Con, Purley-on-Thames) said the stadium’s closure should have “no fundamental impact” on any other teams.

As far as the council was aware, he added, other outfits in the town – including Newbury Ladies FC – have other “fixed home grounds”.

Newbury Ladies hire Donnington Cricket Club for training and home league matches.

Rick Jones continued: “The council made it clear that once the Newbury FC lease ended, and before development begins, the council would not grant other leases, by opening the ground to the public as a MUGA.

“No formal league or club matches will be possible.”

When asked about what plans the council has to provide a pitch of equivalent standard for Faraday Road within the Newbury area, Rick Jones added it was in conversation with Newbury FC to provide “a good, temporary facility within the Newbury area and also a longer-term facility”.

“Obviously, those facilities could be of interest to other teams,” he added.

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