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Plans for football to return to Newbury's Faraday Road approved – but council still intends to move football to Monks Lane

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A pair of “vexatious” planning applications to return the disused Faraday Road football ground site to football have been approved.

This is despite the plans going against the long-term goal of West Berkshire Council – which owns the site – to redevelop the land with flats.

At a council meeting last night (Wednesday), the western area planning committee unanimously gave the green light to proposals by the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) for a new clubhouse and stand at the site, as well as a new artificial pitch.

The ground is being converted into a public open space. (53328935)
The ground is being converted into a public open space. (53328935)

However, as the land is owned by the council, the applications won’t proceed any further unless the district council changes its plans to build flats on the site, which the council sees as key to the regeneration of the London Road Industrial Estate, or there is a change of council control in the May 2023 election.

Speaking at the meeting, the council’s executive member for leisure and culture Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn) said NCFG was wasting planning officers’ and members’ time.

He said: “I’m frankly annoyed that these applications have come to committee.

“There are, in my opinion, no planning objections to these applications but they are unimplementable as is known by the applicants, as there’s no intention by West Berkshire Council to allow them to proceed in the light of the clear ambition for comprehensive regeneration of this and the larger site.

“As such, they are vexatious.”

However, Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common) accused Mr Woollaston of arrogance.

He said: “We have to remember the unusual nature of the owner, which is the elected district council.

“It shows a great deal of arrogance on the part of the last speaker [Mr Woollaston] to assume that the owner will never change its intentions.

“So I’m very glad to see this application come before this committee.”

Responding to the decision, NCFG chairman Paul Morgan said: “It’s good news – we weren’t expecting a unaminous vote so that was a pleasant surprise, but it’s a very good and well-thought through planning application so it was the right thing to do.

“The fact that Howard Woollaston called it vexatious and that we were wasting people’s time was totally outrageous, especially as he’s the portfolio holder for health and wellbeing and for internal governance.

“It’s untrue – we put the planning application in 2018, it’s on an asset of community value and we’ve been desperately trying to get them to open the ground.

“It’s the right thing to do to reopen it as a football ground and I think if you speak to nine out of ten people in Newbury they’ll say it’s the right place for football.”

The council plans to move football provision in Newbury to the rugby club in Monks Lane, where it hopes to build a new Sports Hub.

It has come under fire for the proposed costs of the Monks Lane scheme, with the move costing upwards of £10m over the duration of a 40-year lease – however the council has so far refused to reveal the total costs of the scheme and how much it will borrow.

The council’s Sports Hub plans meanwhile have come under fire from Sport England – a non-departmental public body – and the Football Association for its lack of detail and concerns that football would be subsiding rugby at the ground.

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