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Newbury football ground would be "churned up" if it reopened for football

Clash over advice provided by Sport England

REOPENING Newbury football ground for football can’t be done because it would “churn up the pitch into a mud bath”.

And, the future of football provision and the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) are now “two separate beasts”.

West Berkshire Council evicted Newbury FC from the Faraday Road ground in 2018 to clear the way for redeveloping the LRIE.

But the ground has sat empty for two years after a Court of Appeal ruling meant the council had to restart the project.

The local authority now wants to reopen the ground as “recreational space for community use” in spring 2021, until the regeneration gets under way.

The Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) has been trying to reopen the ground for football use and has registered the ground as an asset of community value.

But at a meeting of the council’s executive on Thursday, portfolio holder for economic development Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said the ground would be churned up if it reopened for football.

He said: “The ground will not be open for organised football purposes, for men’s, women’s, youth teams, for no other good reason than it would absolutely churn up the ground.

“The ground is going to be made available for recreational open space.”

NCFG member Jason Braidwood asked “with the green space going to the public, would that not get churned up as much as using the football pitch?”

Mr Mackinnon said: “No I don’t believe it would. The suggestions that have been put forward is that the ground is used for several teams, men’s, ladies, youth teams and so on.

“If you think about the constant usage of that, all those teams, all the training that would go on as well as matches, that grass pitch – and this is advice from Sport England as it happens – would just be churned up into a mud bath very, very quickly.

“The level of activity that we envisage for the site is a lot less intense and yet there can be groups of people going to play an impromptu football match, there will be dog walkers, joggers and so on, but the level of intensive usage that would destroy the ground as I described – I wouldn’t expect that to happen.”

He said the council would not give specific user groups preference over others on the temporary recreation space.

Asked by NCFG member Lee McDougall what legal advice was received on changing the ground to recreational space, Mr Mackinnon said the process was governed by planning procedure, so no legal advice was required.

Mr McDougall said: “I would challenge the point that you haven’t had legal advice.

“You have made comments about Sport England that are blatantly untrue because we’ve spoken to their head of planning, who denied that the advice they gave was to not play football on a football pitch.”

Mr Mackinnon replied: “Of course I’d take issue with the fact that you’re saying I’m not telling the truth. I honestly am.

“Sport England have given informal advice and I think we have to leave it there.”

Sport England was contacted by the NWN, but it did not respond before the newspaper’s deadline.

Councillors later approved a phased redevelopment of the LRIE, which will result in affordable housing built at the southern end of the estate, where the football ground lies.

Mr Mackinnon said: “The future of football provision and the future of the estate are now two separate beasts.

“The future of football provision, we are hoping to make an announcement on that very soon, and from that point on the future of London Road and the future of football in the district can follow separate paths.”

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