The Football Ground at Faraday Road in Newbury – 22 October 2020 update

This post refers to the long-running (since June 2018) debate about the Newbury’s football ground. If anyone would like to add any comments, either as a separate section or in direct response to any of the points made below, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

22 October 2020 update

The matter of the football ground and related matters was discussed at a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Executive on 15 October 2020.

Newbury Community Football Group comments

“We’d like to comment in particular on one question raised at the Executive:

“Question (k): “Given the statement by Cllr Rick Jones in the NWN of 20th February of the shortage of playing fields why does the council think building flats in a flood plain is a good idea?”

“Response from Councillor Ross Mackinnon: “Use of the old football ground for appropriate redevelopment is integral to the LRIE regeneration project and where re-provision measures elsewhere are supported by Sport England. Flood zone land can achieve consent for residential development. Such consent may be granted if, amongst other factors, the Environment Agency are fully satisfied that flood mitigation measures are appropriate and fully detailed out at design stage.”

“It is only an old football ground in the sense that it has been at the current site since 1963.

“Despite councillors, who should know better, making misleading statements and Council documents (including briefs to consultants) openly (and wrongly) referring to it as “the former ground”, “the old ground”, “previous ground” and “defunct ground” It still remains a football ground (albeit regrettable and unnecessarily closed). Change of use (from a football ground) requires planning permission granted by a Local Planning Authority or the Secretary of State (or his Inspector) – neither of which has happened.

“Councillor MacKinnon uses the phrase “appropriate development.” Has he read the recent Planning Inspectorate report with respect to the Newspaper House Appeal?  Also the recently released Avison Young report points out that the LRIE is in a flood risk area and the masterplan will need to respond to this by incorporating an extensive SuDS area (but fails to provide details and costings for this). Is it really practical or sensible to try to concrete over vast areas in a flood risk area – especially next to rivers / canals which will get even more risky due to global warming and climate change?

“Here’s a radical idea for the Council: why not give due consideration to more appropriate water-compatible developments such as those listed in the Governments Planning Policy Guidance Flood Zone and flood risk Table 2: Flood risk vulnerability classification: “Amenity open space, nature conservation and biodiversity, outdoor sports and recreation and essential facilities such as changing rooms” are water-compatible developments. If only they had an “outdoor sports and recreation with essential facilities such as changing rooms” that they could incorporate into the LRIE regeneration project?

“Finally Councillor Mackinnon mentions “re-provision measures elsewhere that are supported by Sport England”, which is simply not the true. Sport England’s policy and guidelines clearly state “that the area of playing field to be lost as a result of the proposed development will be replaced, prior to the commencement of development, by a new area of playing field of equivalent or better quality, and of equivalent or greater quantity, and in a suitable location”

“Sport England’s policy and the Council’s own Playing Pitch Strategy, that was adopted in February this year, clearly states that no construction work starts at the current site (Faraday Road) until a new site is available. However, demolition work actually started back in 2018 and the deliberate destruction of the ground continues. Factually, in this case demolition is an act of development under S55 of the Town & Country Planning Act , therefore prior re-provision is required, which the Council has failed to adhere to.

“Also in terms of re-provision, where exactly is the Council with this?  The answer is back to square one with no plan or timescale to deliver on this.  Can anyone from the Council honestly justify the decision to close the football ground (and keeping it closed) without first of all having a replacement facility in place? Maybe Councillor Mackinnon (and the rest of the Council’s Executive team) should start listening to common sense and to what the people of Newbury actually want and need. There is so much negative reaction but public opinion can only go so far. What we need is West Berkshire Councillor’s and our local MP Laura Farris to put real pressure on the people responsible for this continued mess to change tact.  On that point we were pleasantly surprised to read the comment from Jeff Beck (Conservative, Clayhill) who is reported in today’s Newbury Weekly News as saying “I’m in agreement about the football ground. I spotted that is the milk cow and I do feel that is wrong and that area should be retained for sport”

8 October 2020

On 8 October, WBC held a virtual engagement event concerning the long-running problem of the closure of the football ground at Faraday Road in June 2018, no replacement for which has yet been identified. On 15 October, Penny Post received the following comment from the Newbury Community Football Group:

“Councillor McKinnon in his opening statement made it clear that the Avison Young report/brief was 100% focused on WBC as the landowner and not as the local planning authority. Maybe this simple statement explains why they have got it so wrong for so long and why they have wasted so much of local taxpayers money on legal fees, payments to previous master planners and ongoing consultancy fees.

“It is common and accepted wisdom that output is determined by input and consequently if you have questionable or flawed input you will have questionable or flawed output.  This is the case with the Avison Young brief provided by the WBC which is narrow, restrictive and prescriptive and designed to provide the predetermined output that certain members of WBC wanted which is a housing led scheme that supposedly will provide the Council as landowner with good returns – or will it?

“This virtual meeting was a presentation by a panel from Avison Young and WBC and did not give the bored and frustrated watching participants any opportunity to ask questions. Instead the panel referred to feedback that they have received and then went on to provide comments and/or responses to that.  It was clear that this process was total staged managed and only questions (real or made up) that they felt comfortable talking to were aired.  For example the following observations and questions was submitted well in advance but funnily enough was not covered on the virtual meeting:

  • The draft report acknowledges that the LRIE is in a flood risk area and the masterplan will need to respond to this by incorporating an extensive SuDS area.Where is the detail and costing for this?
  • Is it really practical or sensible to try to concrete over vast areas in a flood risk area – especially next to rivers / canals which will get even more risky as global warming / climate change becomes a reality?
  • Surely and quite rightly the LPA and Environment Agency would have major concerns regarding the flood risk and any planning application, if it ever reaches that stage, would in all probability be refused.
  • This is a significant and material issue but there is no detail and costing for this on the report
  • What sequential tests have been undertaken?
  • Why has the report not given due consideration to more appropriate water-compatible developments? The Governments Planning Policy Guidance Flood Zone and flood risk tables (Table 2): Flood risk vulnerability classification that “Amenity open space, nature conservation and biodiversity, outdoor sports and recreation and essential facilities such as changing rooms” are water-compatible development.

“However, to be fair the Council did say that another ‘virtual consultation’ would be arranged whereby people would be able to ask questions directly – now that should be interesting!”

Penny Post welcomes any other comments from other interested parties which will be added to this post (as others have in the past been below). Please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

August 2020

On 25 August 2020, West Berkshire Council published a document entitled Council announces next steps for Newbury industrial estate (referring to the London Road Industrial Estate), the fill text of which can be read here. One of the issues involved in this is the closure of the football ground (see July 2020 section below): the last two paragraphs of the document deal with this matter:

“Until redevelopment of the London Road Industrial Estate begins, a new temporary open space will be created on the site of the former Faraday Road sports ground. The recreational space will be provided for community use only until the land is required for regeneration. Work is due to begin this autumn with the creation of an area of grass surrounded by a rail and hard surface. It is expected to open in Spring 2021. Before work can safely begin, contractors will be appointed to demolish a derelict clubhouse on the site which is in a dangerous condition and beyond repair.  Contractors will be appointed and will submit an application for demolition in the coming weeks.

“West Berkshire Council is also looking at options to build a new football facility in the Newbury area. Consultants have completed a feasibility study of three possible sites on land owned by the Council, and the Council is also looking at other options working with partners to deliver a new facility. This will create a new sports provision in the area, providing somewhere for Newbury Football Club to play home games as well as being available for wider community use. It is hoped that further details about potential sites will be released in the autumn.”

On 27 August, the Newbury Community Football Group provided Penny Post with the following statement in regard to this document and the continued uncertainty surrounding the future of football in the town:

“The facility is not a ‘former’ sports ground as there has been no planning application submitted to change its use. In fact, the only planning application that is in place is NCFG’s for a new 3G artificial turf facility and clubhouse which is supported by the public of Newbury (2,000 plus signatures supporting the application), Sport England, the FA, Newbury Town Council and the Newbury Society. Although West Berkshire Council (WBC) continues to exclude the option to retain the football ground at its current location, NCFG think that this is approach is wrong and will continue to keep asking the Council to include the current football ground as an option to be considered, even if it’s as a “plan B”.

“There is no evidence of need for additional recreation space in that part of Newbury. What is required is a first class football pitch in a high quality ground that can be used for by FA-affiliated clubs from the whole community and that’s what the Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy clearly states.

“There is no timescale from WBC if or when a replacement facility will be operational. What WBC should be doing is re-opening the ground immediately for organised football matches until a new facility is available at either its current location or a new location. NCFG, at the recent request of WBC, provided proposals to them for re-opening the ground for such games which at this point in time WBC is unfortunately not progressing.

“Before its premature closure in June 2018, the ground and facilities were fine and fit for purpose. The only reason that the clubhouse is now in a dangerous condition is due to the fact that WBC has allowed it get into this condition. One of the options that NCFG suggested in its proposal to the Council was to evaluate the temporary repair of some of the buildings so that the ground could once again be used for organised football matches

“WBC is now back to square one in terms of finding a replacement facility. We cannot get away from the fact the only reason that we continue to go around in circles now is the Council should have provided a replacement facility before the ground was closed and everyone knows that.

“At this point in time no one can honestly say if or how long it will take before a replacement facility will be operational. It could be two years, five years, ten years or never. There is a simple and workable solution that will provide a facility that is desperately needed and will provide WBCl with valuable breathing space and allow them to put right a well-overdue a wrong – re-open the existing ground immediately for organised football matches until a new facility is available.”

July 2020

On 16 July 2020, the Newbury Weekly News ran a front-page story about the continuing saga of the closure of the football ground in June 2018 despite no replacement having been identified then or since, something the Council is legally obliged to provide. The issue is part of the wider matter of the re-development of the London Road Industrial Estate, in which the football ground is situated. In 2020 West Berkshire appointed consultants to look at alternative sites (though not Faraday Road) for football in the town and the article reported on some reactions to the progress of this.

Penny Post contacted the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), which has led the campaign against this decision, for a comment and received the points below which are reproduced verbatim. If West Berkshire Council or any other interested body wishes also to provide a statement (we only asked this question of West Berkshire a few hours before publication) we’d be happy to give it equal prominence.

The comments excepted from the NWN article are in blue and HCFG’s comments in black.

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 organisation 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. This is inexcusable as (since 10 October 2016) the Faraday Road football pitch and associated facilities was listed by West Berkshire Council as an Asset of Community Value – 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 has already have been forced to relocate to Henwick and as a consequence it has been forced to play in a lower league. The Playing Pitch Strategy, which was adopted by the Council in February 2020, makes in quite clear that the top priority is the provision of a step 5/step 6 facility. Henwick is in Thatcham, not Newbury, and it is already a fully utilized location that cannot provide the new replacement facilities that are required.

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:

The Council has spent (wasted) up to £18,000 on this report from Surfacing Standard Limited (SSL). It was already known well before the report was commissioned and acknowledged by at least one senior Councillor that the rhree sites were never going to be suitable for differing reasons. What the report should have looked at was the suitability of all possible potential site,s including the existing site at Faraday Road.

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 principal 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 that “the districts Green Infrastructure will be protected and enhanced” and that “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 Health & Wellbeing, is at as a member of the LRIE steering group, or as a member of the Executive? There has to be a conflict of interest here.

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” 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 the Penny Post article – the council seem to be making it up as it goes along. See below

Press Release 21 June 2018: Speaking about the council’s plans, councillor James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria) reiterated the need for more high-quality business spacein 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 its historical and current attitude and actions regarding the football ground at Faraday Road. In simple terms, it appears 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 the best overall public interest.

The very fact that Council has commissioned two separate consultancy assignments (Avison Young & Surfacing Standard Ltd), both of which explicitly excludes (forbids) looking, even a 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)?

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

NCFG Comment:

Hindsight and 20/20 vision do not come into it. The Council has 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

To be fair to Councillor Woollaston, it is the first time that a Councillor has actually acknowledged that the 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. NCFG would be happy to work with Councillor Woollaston to make this happen

Councillor Woollaston said, 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.

Vaughan Miller from Newbury Town Council said that “the executive at WBC has closed a key green space with no consideration for the impact on sport or health & wellbeing is shocking and a dereliction of duty”

NCFG Comment:

Total dereliction of duty. The Council has a duty to rectify this. We are urging Councillor Woollaston, as portfolio lead for Health and Wellbeing, to work with all parties to get a sensible way forward.

David Marsh from Newbury Town Council said that “it’s an absolute disgrace, that’s the right terminology to use. Both opposition parties have raised it time and time again in the Council chamber and we just get fobbed off, they just will not engage.”

NCFG Comment:

Will Councillor Woollaston buck this trend and work with all parties to get a sensible way forward?

 

The photo at the top of the post (supplied by NCFG) shows the football club when it was being used and how it looks now.

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One Response

  1. Pleased you are following this Brian as it has implications for Hungerford ( and probably other areas)
    It is no secret that West Berkshire Council fenced off some of the playing fields at Jog school & have subsequently put them forward for development., despite the protection of Playing Fields provided by Sport England and reinforced by the NPPF. Fortunately the Planners have classified the fields as

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