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Councillors call a truce over sports ground row
Councillors embroiled in a planning row with a Witney sports club have organised a meeting in a bid to “build bridges”.
It has been Witney Town Council’s policy to sell West Witney Sports Ground to developers to fund new facilities across town for about 13 years.
The scheme would see the Burford Road site sold to generate an estimated £7m to fund a proposed sports complex in Downs Road.
But last month the council went through a major power shift and David Harvey, the man spearheading the scheme, lost his position of Tory group leader.
The new leadership, including new group leader Pete Dorward, will meet West Witney Sports Club users next Wednesday.
They hope to find out whether people want to stay where they are or have the facilities moved across town.
The Oxford Mail can also reveal that the council has £300,000 in its reserves to fund improvements to the town’s sports facilities.
Alan Beames, leisure and recreation committee member, said: “We have had 13 years of no dialogue with them as such and we now need to start opening doors of communication.
“From my position, I want to hear what they want and how we can facilitate what they want.
“If they want a new site with new facilities that is what we will help them facilitate. If they want to stay there we will help them with that.
“It is a wonderful asset for the people of Witney, in my personal view, but it is not in the best of conditions and has not got the best facilities possible.”
Mr Beames confirmed the council had about £300,000 in its reserves to spend on improving sports facilities in the town, including at West Witney.
Asked why the money had not been spent in the past, he said: “I do not know.
“But obviously we had the perspective in the past that if it is going to be sold off why would you want to spend £300,000 of taxpayers’ money on it?”
Mr Dorward, who is also the town’s deputy mayor, said: “We are going up there to start talking.
“It is to meet the members of the sports ground and just get to know them and find out what their hopes are – how they see the future of the club.
“What we are trying to do is open lines of communication that apparently have not been there previously.”
Mr Dorward said councillors “did not have the best reputation” in the town and said he received a “frosty” reception when he visited the club last year.
Kevin Alder, chairman of West Witney Sports and Social Club, based at the ground, welcomed the meeting.
But he said: “We would like to stay where we are. If they move us the sports and social side of things would die a death.
“We would like to see an upgrade of facilities, though.
“The whole place needs bringing into this century.”
A vote would need to be passed by the full council to change the authority’s policy to sell the sports ground.
The meeting will take place at West Witney Sports and Social Club from 8.30pm next Wednesday.