AN OXFORD college has taken steps that could see a historic sports ground eventually turned over to housing.

The site in Newland – used by Witney Mills Cricket Club – and an adjoined small football pitch have recently been protected from new public rights of way by landowner All Souls College.

The college made the declaration of land use in a notice that also gives residents just one year to apply to for the site to become a town green, which would make it be barred from future development.

Mills club chairman Andy Cannons said: “We saw the college notice recently and we are currently trying to understand what it means for the club.

“The college has owned the land for some time now and always been a reasonable landlord.

“But [with regards to a town green bid], as a club we would explore any and all options available to us to make sure we can keep playing cricket at that site.

“It is our home ground and has been for a long time and we have worked hard in the past to stay there.”

An All Souls College spokesman denied there were any immediate plans to build housing on the site, despite previous suggestions by the college that it could be used for homes.

Angus Richards, of property management firm Smiths Gore, which manages the site for the college, said: “What we have done is a very standard thing we do for many of our clients and it just protects the landowner from unexpected rights of way and new town greens.

“It is one area that has been highlighted for possible housing and the college will not shy away from representations it has made in the past. But there is no specific intention to do that right now.

“If it is decided by planners it is right in the future, then things may change at some point.”

The notice was posted on Oxfordshire County Council’s public consultations website after the declaration was made on behalf of the college.

An officer confirmed that it was not being consulted and had just been placed there to notify the public of the change.

Any residents who bid for town green status for the site must be backed up with evidence going back at least 20 years, an Oxfordshire County Council planning officer said.

The grounds have been used for cricket for more than 100 years and even hosted cricketing pioneer WG Grace, who played there in a match against Oxford University in 1903.

And teams made of workers from Early’s of Witney blanket company first started playing there from the 1920s.

Witney Mills Cricket Club still keeps the motto Weave Truth With Trust as a nod to those origins.

The club is currently in the process of signing off on a new five-year lease agreement with the college, after a previous one expired in March last year.

But that will include a clause which allows the college to opt out of the lease with one years’ notice.

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