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More political football as councils clash over Newbury's Monks Lane Sports Hub

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Newbury Town Council is writing to West Berkshire Council (WBC) demanding it stop all work on the new Sports Hub at Monks Lane.

The planning and highways committee agreed last night (Wednesday) to pressure the council to rethink the plans, claiming the planning process was flawed, and both a sham and a debacle.

All but the sole Conservative councillor on the committee agreed that the planning decision made at West Berkshire Council before Christmas was made on shifting sands.

“Despite repeatedly asking if the Sports Hub at Monks Lane was being considered as a replacement for Faraday Road, it seemed no one at that meeting really understood whether they were voting for a stand alone or replacement pitch,” said councillor Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common.)

Conservative-controlled WBC has the final say on all planning applications and holds the majority in committees.

The WBC executive agreed to award the call off contract for development management services to Alliance Leisure for the construction of Newbury Sports Hub.

“This was done clearly on the basis that it would be a replacement for Faraday Road,” said councillor Vaughan Miller (Lib Dem, East Fields).

He quoted an extract from the officer’s report saying: “The relocation of the facilities at Faraday stadium is referenced as the number one priority in the Playing Pitch Strategy and the Newbury Hub development is designed to achieve this objective. The Newbury Sports Hub provides an enhanced replacement for the Faraday Road stadium. If the Newbury Sports Hub project is not brought forward, an alternative replacement site will need to be found before the LRIE [London Road Industrial Estate] regeneration project can be progressed.”

He claimed that the planning application was passed on the basis that the proposed Sports Hub at Monks Lane is a standalone application and not linked to Faraday Road football ground, adding that Sport England removed its holding objection based on the application being considered as a standalone.

The FA and Football Foundation maintain their objection, also not accepting that the proposal would represent a satisfactory replacement for the Faraday Road stadium.

“There is currently no planning policy basis, let alone planning consent, for the Faraday Road football ground to be replaced by housing, yet this is the clear dependent pre-condition for the entire Master Plan for redevelopment of LRIE to be financially viable for your council, as the site owner,” added Mr Miller.

The committee agreed to write to both the council chief executive and the council leader with the following points.

  • To build such an expensive Sports Hub at Monks Lane could only possibly be justified if it could be deemed a replacement for the Faraday Road football ground (and even that is extremely questionable).
  • A replacement football ground would only be needed if the council were granted planning permission to develop on the current ground.
  • Therefore, it is fundamentally wrong that any alternative facility should be presented to planning until it is proven that the council’s ambitions to developing housing on the current ground is even possible.

The committee resolved to call on WBC to pause all work on progressing the Monks Lane project until the application for the Sports Hub has been fully tested in the planning process as a full replacement for the Faraday Road football ground.

They also want clear planning justification that would make the London Road Industrial Estate redevelopment viable.

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