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West Berkshire Council opposition parties brand Newbury football stadium plans 'madness'

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Conservatives standing by proposals against criticism

The people in charge of West Berkshire Council have refused to scrap plans to build a new sports stadium in Newbury, which have been described as "madness".

The Conservative-run council wants to construct a floodlight stadium with an artificial grass pitch, changing rooms and a function room at Newbury Rugby Club and open it in March 2022.

The council says it will "serve as a replacement" for Newbury Football Club's Faraday Road ground, after it was closed in 2018 to make way for the London Road Industrial Estate redevelopment.

No planning application has been submitted yet, as the council is holding negotiations with the rugby club about renting the land and drawing up a budget.

Liberal Democrat and Green Party councillors called on the Tories to abandon the project and reopen the Faraday Road ground or find space for another ground in Newbury town centre, at a meeting on March 2.

Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said: "We just want to see some football taking place in the centre of our town."

He added: "The proposals for a new ground at Newbury Rugby Club are sketchy, badly thought out and will be a drain on council resources for years to come."

David Marsh (Green, Wash Common) said the new ground will not be a "like-for-like replacement for the existing football ground" in Newbury.

He also raised concerns about the cost of the new stadium and said Newbury Rugby Club will charge "a very large rent".

"It's pure financial madness," he said. "It will be a drain on council tax payers for years.

"The council owns Faraday Road and there's no need to pay rent.

"It would cost less to run a refurbished Faraday Road and it would bring in revenue and make a profit."

Mr Marsh also described the London Road Industrial Estate project, first announced in 2003, as a "speculative venture" and a "complete cock-up".

Nothing has been built on the site since the council evicted Newbury Football Club in 2018.

The project suffered a major setback that year, when the Court of Appeal ruled that the council had breached EU law by failing to follow the correct procurement process when it appointed St Modwen Plc as the developer.

However, it is back on track and the council wants to begin construction in two years and complete the project by 2030.

Leader of the opposition Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said the council is "wasting money" by leaving the Faraday Road ground empty until the site is redeveloped.

He added: "It's going to cost £2 per resident to guarantee we can play football in the centre of the town until that land is actually needed.

"You have been premature on releasing the land and because of that, you've robbed the town of a football club."

The Conservatives refused to scrap plans for the new stadium and council leader Lynne Doherty said they will not reopen the old football ground because that could "jeopardise" the long-awaited project.

Mrs Doherty said: "If you ask me whether I will prioritise jobs for local people and supporting our local economy over football then yes I will.

"I believe the regeneration of London Road Industrial Estate is what will keep us thriving into the future – an economic future that needs to be able to support all residents in West Berkshire."

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