Wed, 11 Jul 2018
THE closure of Newbury Football Club’s Faraday Road ground has been labelled a cynical ploy to advance the council’s case for building on the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE).
The club’s 55-year tenure at the stadium ended last month after West Berkshire Council said it couldn’t commit to extending its lease for another year.
The council wants to redevelop the site as part of its wider plan to regenerate the LRIE, however no planning application has been submitted by its chosen developer, St Modwen.
Safety checks will now be carried out on the ground and the council hopes to reopen it as a free-to-use sports area in September.
In the meantime, Newbury FC will begin its pre-season preparation at Brimpton.
The decision to shut the ground has been branded “a cynical and outrageous ploy to demote the ground’s status” by those fighting to increase footballing provision in the town.
Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) chairman Paul Morgan said: “The council’s determination (made behind closed doors and without consultation) to close the ground and temporarily transform it into a ‘dumbed-down’, low-value generic facility will destroy its value to the community.
“If carried out, the decision will cause immeasurable harm to the ground’s superb playing surface and in all likelihood cause the immediate closure of changing room and clubhouse facilities that are intrinsic to the community’s use of Newbury Football Ground.”
The ground was listed as an asset of community value last year, which means the council must allow community groups a chance to bid for the site.
NCFG has submitted its own plans to enhance the ground with a brand-new 3G pitch, a new clubhouse and changing facilities.
Mr Morgan said the plans would deliver public benefits without the need for public funding and in line with council policy.
In a press release issued about the ground’s closure, councillor James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria) said: “Whilst we would have liked to allow the football club to stay at the pitch, we now need the site to be available for redevelopment to commence.
“I’m pleased that we have found a way to keep the site open to the community until we are ready to begin the redevelopment.
“This will mean many more groups will be able to enjoy the facility.
“Our plans to redevelop the site have been known for a long time and when we signed a short-term lease with Newbury Football Club in 2005 we said even then it would only run for a few years. The time has now come to move on to the next chapter for the London Road Industrial Estate.”
But Mr Morgan said the council’s statement “typified its overall undemocratic approach”.
He said: “No plans have been published, no consultation has taken place, no planning application has been submitted, no feasibility tests have been carried out.
“The decision is without evidential support, unnecessary and premature.
“It will put stress on the public purse and will cause the destruction of a crucial part of Newbury’s community sporting infrastructure.”
NCFG is calling for proper consultation and a transparent debate about the ground’s future and permission to run and maintain it.
The group has asked the council whether it has the expertise to run the facility and questioned the timescale for building on the LRIE, arguing that the club could have stayed at the ground for at least three years.
The council is currently surveying the ground’s condition and safety. Subject to the results, it aims to have the site open in September, stating that it will freely available to the public as a multi-use games area.
The ground will be operated in this way until the proposed redevelopment of the LRIE begins.
While residents may choose to use it for different sports, it will be marked up with two five-a-side pitches for those wanting to play football.