News update February 2020

The Playing Pitch Strategy finally gets approved at the council executive meeting on 13 February but our questions still don’t get fully answered.

To overcome a late Environment Agency objection to the position of the spectator stand near the river we are adjusting our 3G ground plan.

The survey to choose the alternative football ground starts soon but will it be Henwick, Northcroft, The Diamond or none of them?!

We are told Faraday Road is off limits, but it’s the obvious first choice if the council would only admit it.

What, if anything, did we learn from the West Berkshire Council Executive Meeting held on Thursday 13 February 2020?

The Headlines:

• That the Council’s policy and overall approach towards the London Road Estate appears to be in a more dilapidated state than the abandoned Faraday Road Football Ground itself.

• That the Council continues to make key and strategically important decisions behind closed doors, without evidence and in contravention to its own published consultation policy which sets out a very clear commitment and policy-based obligation to carry out consultation so that decisions are “evidence-based, taking into account the views and experiences of residents and service users.”

• That the Council has not spent any money on maintaining the football ground over the past 10 years and claim that they do not have any responsibility for maintaining the pitch, buildings and associated infrastructure. They say that the ground is not open space and have no responsibility as Landlords to maintain the site at all, and seem totally unconcerned by the ground’s current rundown state.

• The Council continues to systematically and deliberately destroy the current football ground. The latest act of destruction is the removal and presumably disposal of over 350 metres of metal supporters barrier and 1.1-metre-high chain link fencing surrounding the pitch. When asked who from the Council authorised its removal, why it was removed and if it was sold the Council appeared to have no knowledge of this whatsoever.

• The Council arrogantly and steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they have made any mistakes, whatsoever, with respect to decisions made regarding the town’s only football ground.

• The Council keep saying that since 2004 they have had a “vision” to redevelop the London Road Estate and as part of this vison the football club would need to be relocated, so what have they been doing for the past 16 years?

o Have they applied for planning permission to build on the football ground? – NO
o Have they undertaken public consultation regarding the loss or replacement / relocation of the football ground? – NO
o Have they come up with plans and timescales to provide a new (replacement) facility for the football ground? – NO
o Have they spent any money on maintaining / enhancing the ground over the past 10 years? – NO
o Councillor Rick Jones has just announced that a consultancy firm (Surface Standards) has been appointed to carry out a feasibility study on alternative sites as a potential replacement for the football ground. Does this mean that one of the options they will be looking at is to retain the current site if a suitable alternative cannot be identified in a sensible timescale? – NO
o Since June 2018 has the Council received any income from the football ground? – NO

o Have they prematurely and needlessly shut down (since June 2018) the ground and denied the community access to it? – YES
o Since June 2018 have, they systematically and deliberately destroyed the once well-loved and well used football ground that has stood on the site since 1963? – YES
o Did the Court of Appeal rule that the Council’s development plans with St Modwen’s was unlawful and that this needed scrapping? – YES
o As a result of the Court of Appeal ruling is the Council now looking at a new masterplan for the whole estate with a new consultancy firm called Avison Young? – YES
o In January 2020 did the Council’s Western Area Planning Committee recommend the approval of NCFG’s planning application for a new artificial 3G turf facility and club house at Faraday Road? – YES
o Did NCFG undertake a public consultation regarding its planning application? – YES
o Did NCFG’s planning application have the support of Sport England, the FA, Newbury Town Council, The Newbury Society and the public (over 3000 people supported this application)? – YES
o Did Councillor Rick Jones confirm that it is the Council’s policy absolutely not to allow the football ground to stay where it is at its current location? – YES
o Does NCFG agree with Councillor Hilary Cole’s statement that “every planning application has to be treated on its merits and take into account the most up-to-date information and planning policies at both a national and local level”? – YES
o Would it not be the right and sensible thing to re-open the existing ground to allow organised football matches and training until such a time as a new facility is operational? – YES
o Would this involve the Council spending money to bring the ground back to the condition and status it was when they closed it in June 2018? – YES
o Is it appropriate to use public funds like S106/CIL to bring the ground back to the condition and status it was when they closed it in June 2018? – YES…

 The Council have not provided any investment in the ground over the past 10 years.
 It was solely the Council’s decision to prematurely close the ground in June 2018 (without a replacement being available)
 As a direct consequence of the Council’s decision the ground has been totally neglected and is now in a very poor condition.
 Why has the Council only now starting looking at options for an alternative location?
 At some point in the future the current ground and buildings will be replaced either at a new location or in the same location (NCFG planning application). The big issue, that is simply being ignored by the Council, is the only tangible option at the moment is the replacement option at the current location (it has a planning application that has been passed, it does not involve change of use etc). The other option, looking for a new location, has only just been kicked off and there is absolutely no guarantee that a suitable location will be ever be found. As stated at the WBC Exec meeting how long is a reasonable time to wait? What happens if they are still looking at possible options 2, 3, 5 or 10 years from now? What happens if no suitable alternative location is identified? Even if a new suitable location is found, realistically how long will it be before it becomes operational?
 The Council needs stop wasting more time and effort by coming up with one temporary scheme after another (which they have not consulted with anyone on) that clearly does not provide the community with what it actually wants and needs.
 The Council have been prepared to spend money on other “temporary” schemes (such as a MUGA – £88,000) that no one wanted.
For goodness sake please West Berkshire Council do the right thing and announce that you will bring the ground back to the condition and status it was when it was closed in June 2018 and commit to keeping it open and operational until the current ground and buildings are replaced either at a new location or in the same location!