THE owners of Witney Community Stadium say they are “bitterly disappointed” at the collapse of London Welsh’s move to the town.
The professional rugby union club last week announced it was signing a three-year deal to remain at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, despite months of talks.
On the Edge, which owns the Witney stadium, in Downs Road, had secured planning permission for temporary stands at the site holding up to 10,000 spectators.
Co-director Gavin Brown said: “We’re bitterly disappointed. We saw huge opportunities, not only from London Welsh, but for the whole of Witney and West Oxfordshire.
“Potentially, a wonderful thing could have happened for tourism, sport and everything.
“A lot of people have been involved with getting to where we have and it has cost us quite a lot of money, so to suddenly lose it all pretty quickly is annoying. It’s still a sports stadium and it could potentially cope with Premiership rugby, so the door remains open.”
The ground has stood empty since Witney Town Football Club folded last year but Tower Hill junior teams have recently been using it free of charge after their own pitches were flooded.
Mr Brown said there were no other plans for the stadium yet but added: “Whatever we do, we have to provide sports facilities for West Oxfordshire and we want to do that.”
Former Witney Town FC chairman Steve Lake said: “It’s just a shame that it will be a while until some sports use is made of it.
“There’s a few junior games being played there at the moment but otherwise it’s just a wasted facility, which is a shame for everyone.”
Former football club manager and director Andy Lyne said: “The whole problem that the club had was the operating costs playing in that stadium, because the rent and rates were quite high.
“Whoever plays there has got quite considerable overheads to concern themselves with.
“Whether or not anyone has got the wherewithal to take on the challenge of trying to run a football club in a stadium that big is a totally different ball game.
“It was built for football and that’s what it should be used for but if you couldn’t play football then it’s important that sport of some description is played there.
“It’s very sad the way it has all panned out.”
West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet member Richard Langridge said: “It’s a great shame for Witney that London Welsh won’t be coming here. There were people who were very excited about them coming and it would have been great to have a Premiership rugby club.
“It would have had a great impact on sport throughout the district.”
There had been concern about the increase of traffic in Witney if the move was successful.
Town councillor Ben Woodruff said: “It’s a shame, because it would have been a great asset to the town but I can see the club’s point of view, as it’s easier for fans to get to the Kassam Stadium.”
London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips said that the idea of moving to Witney was never used as a bargaining chip by the club.
He said he believed the Kassam Stadium was the best opportunity for the club’s development.
He said: “We’re very grateful to both the current owners and West Oxfordshire District Council.
“We never used Witney as a stalking horse, that’s just not the case. There still remains a very good option at Witney.”