Friday, April 12, 2024

Campaigners say High court decision ‘good news for Newbury’

The High Court decision to side with West Berkshire Council on its Monks Lane sports hub proposal has been hailed as a success for democracy – by the losing side.

The claimant, Newbury resident Alan Pearce must now pay his and the council’s legal costs running into tens of thousands of pounds.

He has yet to directly comment, or decide to appeal the decision but his supporters say despite the judge finding that West Berkshire Council did not mislead on the planning application, it is actually good news for Newbury.

“This is good news for Newbury in that council members are now fully aware that any commercial or residential development of the football ground at Faraday Road will mean that WBC will need to build another ‘new replacement’ football ground and stadium in addition to the ’new’ facility to be built at Monks Lane,” they said.

“The Judicial Review has fulfilled its objectives in that there is still a clear legal  requirement for a replacement for Faraday Road which will be in addition to the new Monks Lane facility.

“The claimant is satisfied that the high cost of legal fees is a small price to pay for upholding democracy for the benefit of West Berkshire residents. It is shame that so few people trust the councils properly under its own recognisance.”

Opposition Liberal Democrats say the judge has agreed that Monks Lane is NOT a replacement for the Faraday Road site.

“If it was to only fulfil the playing pitch strategy, you could deliver that for a fraction of the cost,” said Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham).

“And does this mean every pitch now costs around the £10m mark which is how much the Monks Lane sports hub will cost?”

He said he was in favour of two pitches at Monks Lane but against the notion of paying a long lease to the rugby club, which, he said, would get added training pitch benefit from the extra pitch anyway.

“If we gain control of the council after the May elections, we would let the Newbury Community Football Club – which has been given planning permission to rebuild the Faraday Road pitch club house the planning permission it needs, and bring football back into the heart of Newbury.”

The case is complex, in that the council is also the planning authority, and is bound by its own playing pitch strategy – which says the district is short of playing pitches.  On top of which the council is also the land owner, and therefore landlord of the Faraday Road pitch which it effectively decommissioned, primarily to build flats on it. And latterly, following a u turn on that, build offices and industrial units on. 

While the council agreed to the NCFG planning permission for the new – and cheaper than Monks Lane – club house at Faraday Road, it has not, as landlord, allowed it to be used as a football club and pitch.

Responding to the judgment, Lynne Doherty,  (Con, Speen) the leader of the council, said: “We are delighted that the Judge has agreed that our decision as local planning authority to grant permission for the construction of the Sports Hub at Monks Lane, Newbury, was correct.

“We have been clear from the outset that the claims made by those seeking the judicial review were entirely without foundation and that our position was sound.

“This judgment has reinforced our stance and shown that our planning processes were conducted appropriately.

“Regrettably each day that has gone by since these baseless claims were filed has seen taxpayer money wasted, due to both legal costs and inflationary rises in eventual construction costs.”