Sun, 12 Jan 2020
WEST Berkshire Council has abandoned its plan to reopen Newbury’s Faraday Road football ground as a multi-use games area (MUGA).
Instead, it will effectively turn it into a park or, as the council puts it, “convert the old football pitch into an area of grassland for informal sport and recreational use”.
The ground, which was previously home to Newbury Football Club and a number of boys and girls junior teams, will eventually be turned into flats as part of the council’s plan to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE).
The council evicted the club in June 2018 so it could have the land ready for development.
However, the LRIE scheme has been delayed due to a number of legal challenges and the ground has been empty ever since.
Originally, the council said it wanted to reopen the ground as a MUGA, featuring two five-a-side pitches, 4m-high secure fencing and eight floodlights.
But it has now scrapped that plan because it was “unpopular” and would have cost £130,000.
The council has also ruled out restoring the ground to its original condition, saying it would cost between £800,000 and £1.1m.
In contrast, the cost of converting the football pitch to an area of grassland bound by a timber post-and-rail fence will cost £30,000.
The council’s executive member for public health and wellbeing, Rick Jones (Con, Tilehurst and Purley), said: “The MUGA was not popular with the community football group, which made us think twice about it.
“The cost of it was rising quite rapidly too.”
Mr Jones said the grassland would be “treated as a park”, but has asked officers to explore the option of putting in temporary changing rooms so competitive football can still be played there.
At a recent executive meeting, opposition leader Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said the council’s “incompetence” had allowed the ground to fall into a state of disrepair.
Mr Dillon said: “There are some eye-watering figures in there in terms of how much it would cost to refurbish.
“But the reasons those costs are so eye-watering is because of your incompetence in looking after the facility in the first place.
“For years we have sat without a football team being able to play in our town, yet you haven’t been able to do anything with the land.
“It is a real wasted opportunity for the town to be able to have that facility up and running.”
Mr Jones said the council had made “strenuous efforts” to find alternative provision for the club.
But, he added: “For one reason or another, the non-cooperation of the club and Sport England at the time, made that impossible. It wasn’t through lack of effort.”
Green Party district councillor David Marsh said: “It makes no sense at all what has gone on there. No sense at all.”
His Green Party colleague Steve Masters added: “I welcome the report and fact that it is going to be reopened in some form.
“Is the fact we are now looking at reopening and allowing people to pay accepting the fact it was premature to close it when it was closed and that the council made a mistake there?”
Mr Jones replied: “I don’t see any value in examining history.
“We are where we are and we want to move forward so I am asking my colleagues to be positive about the future, to find resources and funds to fix the issue.”