Newbury FC “may have to accept Henwick”

NCFG Comment:

Until its eviction in June 2018 Newbury FC managed the ground on behalf of the Council. Newbury FC had teams that played at the ground but they were contractually obliged to make the ground accessible and available to the community which they of course did. Over the year’s youth teams, ladies’ teams, boys & girls’ teams and a myriad of other teams and organisations used and benefited from the ground that has been there since 1963.

This is not nor never has been about the loss of a home ground to one football team.  It is about the loss of the ground to the whole community and this fact has continually been pointed out to the Council yet they persistently, irrationally and for its own convenience seems to ignore this, which is inexcusable as (since 10th October 2016) the Faraday Road football pitch and associated facilities was listed by West Berkshire Council as an Asset of Community Value – which is unequivocal evidence of demand for use and essential value to the community.

Newbury FC could be forced to relocate Thatcham if an alternative football ground to Faraday Road can’t be found

NCFG Comment:

Newbury FC have already been forced to relocate to Henwick (a park pitch) and as a consequence they are forced to play in lower leagues. 

Let’s not forget that until a few years ago Newbury FC played in similar leagues to Hungerford and Thatcham. Whereas Hungerford and Thatcham have prospered and moved up the leagues, which is great for their respective towns’ civic pride, Newbury have been forced to play in lower leagues simply because West Berks Council would not provide the security of tenure that was required to compete in the higher leagues. This issue was further compounded when the Council prematurely and without justification evicted Newbury FC in June 2018.  In 2020 Newbury we are now left with a totally dilapidated and unused football ground and the conclusion has to be that this Council really does not understand or support sport in Newbury.

If the Council had, as it should have, provided a replacement facility of equal or better standard within a similar and suitable location BEFORE it closed the current ground then then no-one would have had grounds to complain or object.  But unfortunately, 2 years after the closure of the existing ground no alternative location has been identified and no timeframe has been provided for any new facility to become operational which is totally unacceptable and unjustifiable behaviour.

A West Berkshire Council (WBC) consultation on the feasibility of moving the football club to Northcroft (prone to flooding) , Henwick or Pigeon’s farm (too small)

NCFG Comment:

NCFG has requested many times a copy of this report, yet to date the Council have totally ignored this request.

We know that they’ve spent (wasted) up to £18,000 on this report from Surfacing Standards Limited (SSL) yet it was already known well before the report was commissioned and acknowledged by at least one senior Councillor that the 3 sites were never going to be suitable for differing reasons.  What the report should have looked at was the suitability of all possible potential sites including the existing site at Faraday Road.

Cllr Howard Woollaston said that if another site couldn’t be found then Henwick, where the club played this season, was the best option.

“That’s purely my personal view that Henwick is the best option that’s there”

NCFG Comment:

Is Councillor Woollaston aware that the Faraday Road football ground is green infrastructure and it is open space and is protected by the Council’s own policies?

The principle policies in the Core Strategy that cover the football ground are:

Area Delivery Plan Policy 2 Newbury (ADPP2):

Existing community facilities will be protected and, where appropriate, enhanced. These include leisure and cultural facilities, which contribute to the attraction of the town for both residents and visitors.”

CS.18 – Green Infrastructure:

Newbury Football Ground is identified in Local Planning Policy CS.18 as a vital part of Green Infrastructure in West Berkshire;

The Policy is clear “the districts Green Infrastructure will be protected and enhanced” and “Developments resulting in the loss of green infrastructure or harm to its use or enjoyment by the public will not be permitted”.

What hat is Councillor Woollaston wearing when he makes this personal view?  Is it as portfolio lead for Public Health & Community Wellbeing, Sports and Culture is at as a member of the LRIE steering group or as a member of the Executive?  

“Faraday Road is needed as the next quarter for Newbury to get a load of affordable housing in – it’s the only solution”

NCFG Comment:

Why is it the only solution?  How many is “get a load of” housing?  Let’s see what evidence has led the Council to this new conclusion and what other solutions were evaluated and discounted as part of this process. 

Only in the past few weeks has affordable housing been mentioned and that is by Councillor Woollaston in a Penny Post article – the council seem to be making it up as it goes along.    See below

WBC Press Release 21 June 2018: Speaking about the council’s plans, councillor James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria) reiterated the need for more high-quality business space in Newbury, which the redevelopment of the LRIE would achieve.

Mr Fredrickson said: “Whilst we would have liked to allow the football club to stay at the pitch, we now need the site to be available for redevelopment to commence.”

It’s hard not to accuse the Council of predisposition, predetermination and bias with respect to their historical and current attitude and actions regarding the football ground at Faraday Road. In simple terms they appear to have made a predetermined decision to build flats (they will not be affordable homes) on the football ground without taking into account all the merits of alternative arguments that should be based on empirical evidence and what’s in best overall public interest.

The very fact that Council have commissioned 2 separate consultancy assignments (Avison Young & Surfacing Standards Ltd) both of which explicitly excludes (forbids) looking, even at the possibility, of retaining the ground that’s been in its current location for over 57 years and has a live planning application in progress is in itself clearly a case of predetermination.

Is Councillor Woollaston predetermining the outcome of the Avison Young report (that cost the Council over £85,000)?

“With the benefit of hindsight and 20/20 vision, clearly we wouldn’t have closed the Faraday Road site when it was”

NCFG Comment:

To be fair to Councillor Woollaston it is the first time that a West Berkshire Councillor has actually acknowledged that there was no justification in closing the ground in June 2018.  However, Councillor Woollaston should now urgently look at opening the ground for its intended purposes, especially in light of the fact that no alternative location is in sight. 

However, hindsight and 20/20 Vision does not come into it. The Council have just ignored all evidence and demand.  In 2016 7,000 people signed a petition to keep the ground open, in 2018 2,000 people signed a petition supporting NCFG’s planning application for a new 3G pitch and new club house at Faraday Road.  NCFG’s planning application is still live and being processed.

There is a simple and obvious way forward.  NCFG and the footballing community of Newbury proposes that the current ground, in Faraday Road, is re-opened and returned to its former status as a Step 5 facility without further delay so that it can be used for its intended purposes by the whole community.

Once opened and returned to its former status NCFG wants the ground to remain open until either:

  • NCFG plans for a 3G pitch and new club house at the current site has been delivered, or

  • The Council has provided a new and fully operational facility which is in a suitable location and is of equivalent or better quality (as defined by Sport England) than the current Faraday Road football ground.

NCFG believes that it is vital for Newbury’s civic pride / aspirations and for the overall health and well-being of the whole community that organised football can be provided, for all ages and genders at the best possible facilities.

NCFG believes that a town of Newbury’s size and stature needs a football ground that can provide the facilities required to support teams that can compete in the National League System.

NCFG has a zoom meeting  scheduled with Councillor Woollaston this week (Wednesday 22nd July 2020) which will hopefully be positive and productive and we will be asking Councillor Woollaston, in his role as  Executive Portfolio Holder for Public Health & Community Wellbeing, Sports and Culture, to urgently look at opening the existing ground at Faraday Road ground for its intended purposes.

“I wasn’t part of the administration at that stage so I don’t know the ins and outs of the details. But my personal understanding is that it all got caught up in the court case”

NCFG Comment:

The Council wasted over £300,000 in defending the court case, which has nothing to do with the closing of the football ground.  The simple and irrefutable fact is that Council should not have closed the current football ground unless or until a replacement ground of equal or better quality was operational.