Mon, 20 Jul 2020
NEWBURY Football Club could be forced to relocate permanently to Thatcham if an alternative football ground to Faraday Road can’t be found.
A West Berkshire Council (WBC) consultation on the feasibility of moving the football club to Northcroft Leisure Centre, Henwick Worthy Sports Ground in Thatcham or Pigeon’s Farm Road in Greenham concluded none of the sites were ideal, with the leisure centre prone to flooding and Pigeon’s Farm Road too small and lacking public transport.
The local authority is now exploring sites that are not council-owned, however the executive member in charge, Howard Woollaston, said that if another site couldn’t be found then Henwick – where the club played this season – was the best option.
He said: “If we can’t find anywhere that is good or better then we’ll probably have to accept Henwick.
“That’s purely my personal view that Henwick is the best option that’s there.”
Mr Woollaston said it would not be possible for the team to remain at Faraday Road because the site was earmarked for affordable housing.
He said: “Faraday Road is needed as the next quarter for Newbury, to get a load of affordable housing in.
“It’s the only solution.”
Mr Woollaston also admitted that, with hindsight, it was a mistake for the council to close the Faraday Road ground when it did.
He said: “With the benefit of hindsight and 20/20 vision, clearly we wouldn’t have closed the Faraday Road site when it was.
“I wasn’t part of the administration at that stage so I don’t know the ins and outs of the details.
“But my personal understanding is that it all got caught up in the court case.
“The intention was we’d carry on straight away and we’d probably be on site by now but clearly that didn’t happen.”
WBC evicted Newbury FC from Faraday Road in July 2018, three years after entering an agreement with developer St Modwen, via a non-regulated bidding process, to regenerate the land.
However, in November 2018 the Court of Appeal ruled that the development agreement was illegal as it constituted a public works contract and therefore should have been put out to tender.
The ground has been empty ever since, falling into a state of disrepair.
In Monday’s Newbury Town Council planning and highways committee meeting, councillors again questioned West Berkshire Council’s plan to find a replacement site for the football ground and accused the district council of a “dereliction of duty”.
Lib Dem councillor Vaughan Miller said: “We are now probably at least five years away from any possibility of development beginning on the land should it ever go ahead, yet WBC show no indication that they plan to reopen the ground for community football.
“That the executive at WBC has closed a key green space with no consideration for the impact on sport or health and wellbeing is shocking and a dereliction of duty.
“This council remains committed to seeing a replacement ground within the Newbury Settlement Area but has so far found no suitable sites available.
“Even if these were suitable it would still result in a net loss of green space.
“We are willing to work with WBC to find an alternative, but should this not be possible we believe that the ground should remain in Faraday Road.”
Green councillor David Marsh said: “It’s an absolute disgrace, that’s the right terminology to use.
“WBC don’t seem interested in explaining or apologising for this fiasco which has dragged on for years, and it’s very frustrating for those of us who are members of WBC.
“Both opposition parties have raised it time and time again in the council chamber and we just get fobbed off.
“They just will not engage.
“Meanwhile it’s not just Newbury Football Club, it’s all those players, particularly the young footballers of Newbury, who don’t have anywhere to go in the town to play.
“It’s an absolute scandal and runs counter to everything the council is supposed to believe in.”