NCFG remain very concerned that West Berks Council continue to press ahead with the plans for a Sports Hub at Monks Lane, despite the fact it is too small and will cost the local tax payer between £11.5m and £15m, when a much larger option, with planning approval is available at Faraday Road, with a cost to the tax payer of just £600k.
This scheme is a totally inappropriate spend of tax payers money – West Berks Council could build around 6 new 3G pitches, with changing rooms and toilets for the same cost as Monks Lane. For a Council who has acknowledged being seven 3G pitches and total of 27 adult pitches short, why they would build one big white elephant, rather than multiple pitches across the region is difficult for most people to understand.
The Council dismissed concerns over the now highly likely legal challenge and Judicial Review at the Planning Meeting, the likely challenge is due to the Councils mishandling of this application, with stark differences in the definition of the plans. The Council Executive have approved the multi million pound spend based on the fact IT IS a replacement ground for Faraday Road, but they then submitted a Planning Application stating it WAS NOT a replacement for Faraday Road.
This disparity therefore raises the potential for an allegation of being a fraudulent application and thus open to a legal challenge, this is because the Monks Lane plans are not likely to get planning approval as a replacement for Faraday Road as it does not meet the Planning threshold of being of “equal or better quality”. So a Judicial Review could accuse the Council of deliberately manipulating the Planning System. Monks Lane is in fact a lot smaller than Faraday Road and can not be expanded up to the same league levels as Faraday Road could, meaning Newbury could never have a team in the same league as Hungerford are today for example.
Despite strong opposition against the planning application, including 39 letters of objection, there was only one letter of support (which included the line “we would all like to return to Faraday Road”) and a solitary voice speaking in support at the meeting, (a recent un-successful Conservative Town Council candidate) who referenced the Slough Town Football Club facility as a comparable case study. Unfortunately, the comparison to Slough Town FC merely highlights the weakness and unsuitability of the Monks Lane Scheme and perhaps a lack of understanding of the detail of the proposals.
Slough Town is built on Council owned land – so no rent is due – Monks Lane is on private land on which the Council will pay rent of over £40k a year and where assets purchased by taxpayers will not be retained by the local council.
Slough Town play in the same level as Hungerford, so Monks Lane is too small to ever permit this level of football. Newbury has a population of over 40,000, Hungerford has a population of just over 5,000.
Slough Town is a dedicated football facility and allows football to be played every week – Monks Lane provides priority for rugby (at no charge) and does not allow football matches to be be played on the Saturdays that there is a Rugby match on.
Slough Town is self sustaining – Monks Lane is loss making and requires a subsidy from West Berks Council of at least £225k every year
Slough Town has a full Club House, conference rooms and party venues for hire for up to 300 people, providing funds to sustain the club. – The- Monks lane has a small kitchen with no bar or kitchen equipment and room for 30 people (ie 2 teams only, no spectators)
Slough Town has an established U23, Ladies, Youth and Community teams as well as a senior mens team – Newbury has no aligned Ladies, Youth and community clubs to share the use at Monks lane and the pitch could not be used on a available Saturdays due to adjacent rugby matches
Lee McDougall from NCFG said “There is of course an existing football pitch in Faraday Road (with Planning Consent) that would provide all the facilities of Slough Town and probably more. Monks Lane simply cannot provide the same facilities at that’s why the FA and Football Foundation are still opposed to this scheme. Faraday Road is a fraction of the cost of Monks Lane, sits on Council owned land, is big enough to be expanded to higher leagues of football, can be used every Saturday and has a Sport England approved business case that makes it fully sustainable and requires no subsidy from the tax payer – Furthermore it sits in the Clay Hill Ward, which can not afford to have sporting infrastructure and green space removed – and of course was supported by a petition of over 2,500 people”