Councillors from all political parties have agreed to work together following a public meeting on the lack of sports provision in Witney.

And West Oxfordshire District Council has said it is "developing a strategy for how we will plan" for playing pitches across the district, including additional pitches in Witney.

County councillor Liam Walker called a meeting of sports clubs after a member of the public reached out to him on Twitter.

It followed publication of an article in the Witney Gazette about nine football teams - including six girls' teams - not being allowed to use The Leys.

He said he was surprised that around 50 people attended along with town and district councillors.

“That, I think, showed the strength of feeling.”

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Councillors from Witney Town Council of all political colours attended.

“What came out of it was that the clubs do not feel that they are being listened to," he said.

He said a team would now be put together, chaired by Witney Town Council's deputy leader Cllr Joy Aitman, which would meet every couple of months to work on a strategy.

But, he said, he did agree there had been a lack of engagement with stakeholders and a lack of grasp of detail of what clubs needed.


“For instance, West Witney Tennis Club can’t apply for funding because it only has a one-year lease. That’s easily fixed, Witney Town Council just need to sign a five-year lease," he said. 

Meanwhile Cllr Aitman defended the town council on Radio Oxford, saying They Leys failed a test which checks the level of hardness, and the council has been advised that it is unsafe to play on.

Asked why the council had not seen this coming, she said: “WTC have been battling for three and a half years to get new pitches around Witney. Unfortunately West Oxfordshire District Council have rather procrastinated particularly on delivery of a new Astroturf pitch.

"The money has been set aside and places have been sought out for that pitch to go. Some have been looked at and ruled out due to the unsuitability of the land.”

Cllr Aitman is a cabinet member at West Oxfordshire District Council with sports and leisure part of her portfolio.

“Since I have been in place we have looked at a new play pitches strategy which will be released before the end of the year," she said.

She reiterated: "Unfortunately the ground is there but not available to us. As you can appreciate, pieces of land which we have taken over, it takes time to make sure there’s a safe surface of grass grown on it.

She said the council is "doing everything we can to make sure that these children, and of course adult players as well, are accommodated."

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But she added: “That can’t happen immediately because we can’t magic up land or magic up pitches obviously. But as I say the last play pitches strategy was done in 2014 and the recommendations of that were ignored. Incidentally that’s when Robert Courts was on the district council so I would be happy to speak to him, the door is open at the town council and let’s work together on this."

She said The Leys was not the only compacted pitch in the county.

“Since the publicity we have been contacted by councils throughout the whole of Oxfordshire and further afield and they hadn’t realised that they were actually meant to do the test and make sure that insurance can be in place and everything’s going to be safe. So I’m afraid you’re going to other pitches across Oxfordshire maybe not in play," she said.

"But remedial work is ongoing and I’m sure you can appreciate summer has not helped the condition."

A spokesperson for WODC confirmed it is "currently developing a strategy for how we will plan for playing pitches across the district, including ones run by the council and those provided by other organisations".

"It will include options for additional pitches in Witney. We have been consulting with communities on this strategy and councillors will be making a decision on this in the coming weeks.

They added: “Two new pitches have been prepared as part of the new development in West Witney and we anticipate that will be ready for use next year.”



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