9:30am Wednesday 19th February 2014
By Sophie Scott
LONDON Welsh rugby club will make a decision about whether it moves to Witney in the next few weeks, its chairman said yesterday.
Club chairman Bleddyn Phillips was speaking after councillors gave permission on Monday for the club to build temporary stands at the disused Witney Community Stadium.
Mr Phillips told the Witney Gazette that at least two other sites in Oxfordshire were also being considered, but declined to reveal their “confidential” locations.
West Oxfordshire District Council’s lowlands planning sub-committee unanimously approved plans which would allow the rugby club to build temporary stands to accommodate up to 10,000 spectators at the stadium off Downs Road.
The football ground has stood empty since the demise of Witney Town Football Club a year ago.
It is understood that due to there not yet being any other grounds currently with the capacity for 10,000 spectators in the county, permanent or temporary building work would be needed at any alternative site.
If London Welsh decides to move to Witney, the ground would have to be ready for the 2014-15 rugby season.
London Welsh currently plays at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, sharing the ground with Oxford United.
The move to Witney is being considered as an alternative to continuing with the lease at the Kassam.
Mr Phillips said a number of options were still under consideration, but would not confirm the details of them, apart from the option to stay at the Kassam.
He said: “We want to stay in the Oxford area – that’s our number one priority – to build on what we have done in the Oxford area. The question for the club is what are the options available to it if it continued in the Oxford and Oxfordshire area. Looking at that, there are a number of potential options.”
He added that the club would have to make a decision soon.
The plan was approved by councillors despite an objection from Sport England over the loss of two football pitches.
Now that planning permission has been granted, the club will now have to seek the agreement of the Professional Game Board for Rugby Union in England for the scheme, which will take a decision by the end of this month.
Speaking at the sub-committee meeting, the council’s cabinet member for the local economy, Richard Langridge, said: “It is clear that London Welsh coming to play here is absolutely fantastic to Witney and for rugby in the district.
“I think the benefit will be far-reaching and extensive. The only issue is parking and I’m satisfied measures are in place and safeguards are met so the club works with the council to overcome issues.”
London Welsh are in rugby’s Championship but are seeking promotion to the Premiership.
Gavin Brown, of On The Edge, which owns the stadium and submitted the application, said: “It’s not just a boost from a sporting point of view, but also tourism and the economy. It’s now up to London Welsh to make some pretty big decisions.”
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