Political football row over Faraday Road and Monks Lane
West Berkshire Council has rejected calls by opposition councillors to open up a wider debate about sports provision in Newbury.
Monks Lane has been chosen by the council as the preferred site for a new sports hub – but Lib Dem leaders are now demanding to know why this was done without public consultation.
Plans for a new artificial pitch at Monks Lane have been submitted by the council today.
It is hoped that Newbury Football Club will move there.
Following last month's fire at their previous ground at Faraday Road opposition councillors attempted to bring the debate into the public domain.
But their efforts were thwarted at the overview and scrutiny management commission last night as the Conservative-led group voted down a motion claiming the council had broken its own rules on green infrastructure.
These latest plans prompted opposition Liberal Democrat politicians to ask who agreed that the Monks Lane planning application should be submitted.
They are pushing for the Government to intervene, asking the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to take over the decision.
“This is flying in the face of planning policy as relates to green infrastructure,” Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common) told the meeting.
“Other developers will think they can sacrifice green space because of a precedent set by this council. This is a poor example to others to allow Faraday Road consent on the basis that Monks Lane will get permission.”
The council has wanted to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) where Faraday Road sits since 2003 but the project fell apart following a court ruling over procurement in 2018.
“We need a full and open debate about this football provision as one set of policies,” said Liberal Democrat group leader Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East.)
“Then we would all know where we are going. There is no opportunity to debate in this council. This is another example of it.
"We believe we should be leading with best practice and we believe the council hasn’t acted properly.”
Conservatives on the overview and scrutiny management commission hit back, saying they were pleased the council had finally started taking a direction of travel for the site.
“It’s about time we stopped playing political football with this,” said Thomas Marino (Con, Tilehurst and Purley).
Previous council chief executive Nick Carter had said that the council could create "something vastly better" than what was there now, which he said "did the town no justice".
He said that redeveloping the LRIE would take between 10 and 15 years and that looking for a replacement football ground had become an "exciting focus" about leisure provision in Newbury.
Mr Carter said there was a lot of activity to employ the playing pitch strategy beyond LRIE.
He said: "I remain of the view that’s not the place to put a football ground.
"There was a sense of putting a leisure quarter together and Monks Lane was seen as the place for that.
"Sporting provision will come but it ain’t gonna be at LRIE."
Newbury FC played their last game in Faraday Road in 2018 and have played their home games in Brimpton, Thatcham and Lambourn since.