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Plans for football ground at Newbury Rugby Club approved

Plans for a new sports stadium in Newbury took a huge step forward last week, with West Berkshire Council’s executive approving the 40-year deal.

The Conservative-run council hopes to open the floodlight stadium at Newbury Rugby Club, which would have an artificial grass pitch and a clubhouse, by the end of March 2022.

A 40-year lease agreement for the site, which includes a 20-year break clause, was approved by the council’s executive in the private section of a public meeting on Thursday, April 29.

Newbury Rugby Club (46440296)
Newbury Rugby Club (46440296)

It is not clear how each councillor voted as West Berkshire has not responded to our request for further details.

Councillor Howard Woollaston, executive member for leisure and culture, said the plans are “a fantastic solution to a problem that has been going on for a number of years” and called it a “quantum leap for the football community in Newbury”.

The council has not revealed how much it will pay the rugby club to use the land or a budget for the controversial project, as it is considered confidential.

The new stadium will include two stands with 150 and 50 seats respectively, as well as full fencing with turnstiles and 56 car parking spaces.

Plans for the clubhouse include changing rooms for men, women and youth teams, a 30-person capacity function room, bar, washing facilities, kitchen and office.

The ground will be a step 4 facility, above Newbury FC’s current requirement for a Step 7 ground and an improvement on the initial plans for a Step 6 facility.

Newbury FC had to resign from Step 5 in 2015 to play in a less financially demanding league.

Mr Woollaston said there is a possibility of creating a Step 2 facility in the future but this would require “significant capital investment which cannot be justified at this time”.

It replaces Newbury Football Club’s Faraday Road ground, which was closed in 2018 to make way for the proposed London Road Industrial Estate redevelopment.

In a report, the council admits there are “notable risks” to the schedule for the project, as it needs to finalise the lease agreement, secure planning permission and build the stadium in less than 11 months.

The council hopes to put forward a planning application by early June, begin works in early September and open the stadium in March 2022.

The proposal is part of wider plans for six new pitches in West Berkshire and improvements to grass pitches.

Mr Woollaston said he hopes to announce plans for a new “properly drained “ grass pitch and another artificial pitch in the autumn.

During a recent consultation on the new stadium, 349 people responded and 53 per cent said they supported the project.

At the meeting, Liberal Democrat councillor Eric Pattenden (Greenham) laughed at the suggestion the plans are a quantum leap for the Newbury football community, saying: “That is probably the most glorious description of this sequence of events.”

Many people said the council should be “more ambitious” and build a ground that can be expanded and upgraded if a non-league football team that plays there gets promoted to higher leagues.

The council have resisted calls to scrap the project and reopen the Faraday Road ground in Newbury.

The council plans to spend £191,000 on converting that ground into a public space that can be used until the land is needed for the London Road Industrial Estate redevelopment, and says the old clubhouse, toilets and part of the spectator stand must be demolished first.

A group of volunteers, known as Newbury Community Football Group, claim they can reopen the ground for football and run it until February 2022, in a move that will cost the council just £27,000.

But the council says “it is not appropriate” for anyone to play at the ground until the “potentially dangerous” clubhouse and other structures have been demolished and it would cost £200,000 to repair them.

In December, the council agreed to press ahead with the redevelopment of London Road Industrial Estate, which has been in the pipeline since 2003.

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