Goal! Newbury's Monks Lane Sports Hub gets go ahead amid cries of foul play
Full planning permission has been granted for a new pitch and sports pavilion at Monks Lane in Newbury.
But objectors to the scheme have vowed to keep fighting it, pressing Sport England to change its mind.
In a tense, three-hour planning meeting last night (Wednesday) councillors voted five votes to four in favour of the controversial Sports Hub.
“We wanted to refuse this as economically, environmentally and socially unviable,” said Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common). “It will be a permanent drain on public finances with nothing to show for it after a 40-year lease.”
The decision means the new pitch, which is intended to be the new home of Newbury Football Club, has to be ready for playing on by March next year.
But objectors say the application process is flawed and accused council consultants of a ‘poor report riddled with errors and omissions’.
“The FA and Football Foundation remain as objectors to this, whilst the RFU have a holding objection,” Newbury Town Council’s Vaughan Miller (Lib Dem, East Fields) told the western area planning committee.
“It is highly unusual for Sport England not to be aligned with such key national governing bodies like the FA/ Football Foundation and RFU, and indeed Sport England are currently subject to official complaints for allowing themselves to be manipulated into a joint political statement with this administration. And yet the statement still remains on this application.
“The Sports Hub will not be sustainable, with losses each year of over £200,000, which of course will need to be underwritten by council administrations over the next 40 years. This is primarily down to the costs of the lease, lack of income from a proper clubhouse and it being a shared facility, with the rugby club not sharing any of the costs.”
Peter Lambert, a local resident of Heather Gardens, spoke on behalf of a number of his neighbours.
He said: “Despite asking for a clear answer we are still unclear as to the purpose of this development and whether it is a replacement for Faraday Road or not.
“If it is supposed to be then it is too small, too cramped and not fit for purpose.
“If it is not a replacement, then why does it need a clubhouse?”
They claimed it is an over-engineered solution and urged the council to take a step back and look at alternative arrangements.
The council's executive member for leisure and culture, Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn), told the meeting: "This is a state-of-the-art pitch.
“It can be used up to 80 hours a week, not the measley six at Faraday Road.
"A scheme fully supported by Newbury Football Club whose new home it will be, and fully supported by the Hellenic League in which they play.
“If I could allay some objections about the pitch being 20 minutes from the town centre – the vast majority of lower leagues clubs are on the edge of towns. Local examples being Basingstoke, Hungerford and Reading.”
Mr Woollaston, who is the portfolio holder responsible for getting the scheme through, admitted parking was a problem, but told the meeting that an agreement had been reached with Newbury College for 150 extra spaces to be used, with a shuttle bus running between the sites.
“We are providing an outstanding sporting facility at an affordable cost,” he added.