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14th February

Six-week deadline to find a new football ground for Newbury

By Alex Seabrook

Local Democracy Reporter

A TEAM tasked with finding a replacement football ground for Newbury has a six-week deadline to find a new pitch.

Surfacing Standards are the sports pitch consultants appointed by West Berkshire Council to look at potential new places for community football.

The council closed the football ground at Faraday Road, Newbury, in June 2018. The area is a key part of a huge, long-delayed, regeneration project on the London Road Industrial Estate.

By the end of March, the consultants should have finished looking at potential replacements and how feasible they are for a new football stadium.

Councillor Rick Jones (Con, Tilehurst & Purley), lead for public health and community wellbeing, said: “We are in a hurry, so the target to finish is March 31.

“The brief [for the consultants] is to evaluate the pros and cons of developing a step-six community ground, with flood lights, car parking, and facilities.”

He was answering questions from the public at a meeting of the council executive on February 13.

Paul Morgan, chair of Newbury Community Football Group, asked: “How long do you think would be reasonable to wait for Surfacing Standards to come up with an alternative venue? Would it be six months, 12 months, 18 months?”

Cllr Jones explained the council will have go through “a number of stages”. After finding viable sites by the end of March, “we will then work with the users and the surrounding residents of those locations, to work out how to do the project”. 

He added: “I can’t at this stage anticipate how long that will take. But we are in a hurry and we want to do it as fast as we possibly can.”

But opposition councillors later criticised the initial closure of the football ground, and suggested the Faraday Road location be reopened. 

Cllr Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said: “I just can’t understand why you can’t just say, ‘the council made a mistake, we shouldn’t have closed it, let’s bring it back again’, and then look for more sites. 

“What is the problem of just saying you made a mistake?”

Cllr Jones replied: “I have to work to a brief that says Faraday Road isn’t available. I’m trying to do the best I can.”

After the meeting, Mr Morgan said it would have to be several years before a new football ground would open, meaning the town could be without a football ground for seven years. 

He said: “They’re dogmatic and spiteful and they don’t want a football facility. They haven’t got an identified site, and they haven’t got a plan for when it will be delivered.”

17th February

‘Growing concerns’ about increasing pressure on West Berkshire Council staff

By Alex Seabrook   Local Democracy Reporter

AN INDEPENDENT review of West Berkshire Council has highlighted “growing concerns” about the increasing pressure on staff.

Results of the review, conducted last November, were published on February 17.

The Local Government Association sent eight officers and councillors from across the country to look at the council over four days in November. The team spoke to more than 150 people including staff, councillors, and external partners.

The reviewers said: “Capacity is very constrained and clearly demands continue, in relation to services and the need to deliver further savings.” Reviewers found “several examples” of staff “taking on increased responsibilities when colleagues left”.

They also highlighted “growing concerns regarding staff well-being and both personal and organisational resilience, with people speaking of increasing numbers of ‘single points of failure’ in the authority. This suggests that something has to give.”

“Austerity has inevitably impacted and naturally generated a focus within the organisation on the bottom line. Perhaps it is time to see a shift to a mind-set where resource comes to be positioned more as an enabler than as a constraint.”

Elsewhere, the new political make-up of the council — the Tory majority was cut last May from all but four seats to just over half — has “proved challenging”, and disrupting “usually constructive relationships”.

Also, the reviewers called for the council to listen to residents more consistently and directly, “on a wider range of issues”. The council no longer carries out a survey of residents, and the residents’ panel “is not adequately representative of the population”.

The review did highlight several positive aspects, like a good record of delivering budget savings, and the new managerial leadership team having a positive impact.

Councillor Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen), leader of the council, said: “I’m delighted with the feedback from the panel and their conclusion that we are good, solid council. The report reflects the view that we are delivering good services, have good leadership and sound relationships with our partner agencies.

“It has identified some areas for us to focus on if we are to stretch ourselves further, and we can only do this because we are already getting the basics right. This is something we will concentrate on over coming months.”

Bureaucracy was another topic the reviewers looked at. Too many boards mean reports are often duplicated. “People feel constrained by what they saw as disproportionate levels of control and a low risk threshold within the council.” 

Some councillors could use more training, the reviewers said, as some are reluctant to ask for help. “Or perhaps, they don’t even know they can, or how to do so, and that people simply don’t know what they don’t know.”

12th February

West Berkshire Council to decide on sports pitch developments

By Olivia Gantzer @oliviagantzer   Senior News Reporter

A DECISION will be made tomorrow (Thursday, February 13) about the development of sports pitches across West Berkshire.

West Berkshire Council (WBC) has been working with Sport England and local sporting bodies to develop a document to guide the investment, development and improvement of playing pitches over the next ten years.

The West Berkshire Playing Pitch Strategy covers hockey, cricket and rugby as well as football.

It will be introduced by councillor Rick Jones, executive member for Public Health and Community Wellbeing.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, cllr Jones said: “This is an important document which gives us a good insight into the capacity and quality of outdoor sports pitches in West Berkshire.

“It’s been drawn up in partnership with local sporting organisations and following input from local clubs who have been given the chance to have their say.

“I’m grateful to all those who helped us shape this document – it’s an excellent starting point to help us promote and continuously improve our local playing pitches.

“We recognise that the local youth, ladies and adult teams require some facility improvements as they progress in their leagues. “We also are aware that there is a need for more artificial playing surfaces, and better access to some pitches, particularly at schools

“This strategy will help us support local high profile clubs with the most appropriate facilities.”

The council has appointed a consultant to look at options for new football facility to permanently home the high performing teams such as Newbury Football Club and Newbury Ladies, as well as making the venue available to community sports.