8:00am Wednesday 29th January 2014
By Matt Oliver
A NEW stadium could be built in Witney if London Welsh Rugby Club moves to the town.
The club is considering a move to Witney Community Stadium, the disused former home of Witney Town Football Club, in Downs Road, adding five temporary stands to take its capacity up to 10,000.
If the club’s move goes ahead and is a success, permanent stands could soon follow.
The news that the club is considering the move has been welcomed in the town by publicans, sports teams and councillors.
Gavin Brown, of On The Edge, which owns the stadium site, said that the “ideal plan” would be for work on a new ground to be completed within two years of the club starting its first Aviva Premiership season.
This would depend on the club returning to rugby union’s top flight after being relegated to the Championship division last year.
If the planning application for temporary stands submitted by On The Edge is approved by West Oxfordshire District Council’s lowlands area planning sub-committee on Monday, February 17, the club will have to get the stadium approved by the Professional Game Board for Rugby Union in England.
London Welsh currently play at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, sharing the ground with Oxford United.
The Witney Gazette asked London Welsh’s commercial director David Jenkins whether Witney could become the club’s primary ground, but he said no assurances could be given until “the various pieces had fallen into place”.
This includes winning a two-leg play-off to gain promotion back to the Premiership, which will take place in June.
Mr Jenkins said: “There are a few obstacles in the way.
“We’re confident we can meet the RFU’s requirements, but it also depends on whether we win in June. If we then see the people of West Oxfordshire coming out to support us at matches, then we would be looking to build a permanent stadium and really buy into the community.
“We already have a number of partnerships in the county with schools and clubs – so this would be a wide-ranging project.
“We think there’s a great rugby audience in West Oxfordshire. The decision in February will be critical, but until then Witney remains an option.”
Witney mayor Peter Dorward said the plans were an “exciting prospect”.
He said: “Rugby has a huge following here and we have a very prominent and successful community club at Witney RFC.
“If London Welsh are keen to find a new home ground, I know they would get an enthusiastic welcome in Witney.”
Matt Bird, the landlord of the Bird in Hand pub in Hailey, is a keen rugby fan.
He said: “I used to go to the Kassam to watch them quite a lot, so this is great news.
“Now I’ve got even more reason to go and hopefully this could benefit businesses and pubs in Witney as well.”
Witney RFC chairman Danny Crump said the club would be “delighted” to see London Welsh come to the town.
He said: “This could bring even more interest in rugby and is definitely something we could benefit from.
“We would like to see our relationship with London Welsh go further, so we will be meeting them soon.”
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