9:30am Wednesday 12th February 2014
By Matt Oliver
LONDON Welsh Rugby Club’s proposed move to Witney could take a key step forward on Monday.
West Oxfordshire District Council planning officers have recommended provisional planning approval should be given for temporary stands which could hold 10,000 spectators at the disused Witney Community Stadium.
The ground has stood empty since Witney Town Football Club folded a year ago.
But fresh questions have been raised about traffic on match days and parking at the Downs Road site, where an average of 3,000 spectators could be expected, and more for games against the likes of Gloucester.
And a report prepared for a meeting of the council’s lowlands area planning sub-committee says that officials have marked traffic out as a “key issue”.
Approval of the plans for the stadium is a vital stepping-stone for London Welsh to be able to use the site from September, provided they are promoted back to the Premiership this summer.
The planning application has been submitted by On The Edge, which owns the stadium.
Co-director Gavin Brown said the small window of opportunity for the district council to approve the plans was critical.
He said: “If the planning decision is deferred, that could be a problem, because it would leave London Welsh in a difficult position.
“The Professional Game Board [for Rugby Union in England] has to make a decision by the end of the month.”
Issues relating to highways are being handled by consultancy firm Signet Planning, he added, which is managing the application.
In the district council report, planning officer Phil Shaw said that benefits the club could bring would be “substantially undermined” by any “undue” impact on the A40 and roads around the stadium.
The report adds: “Potential consequences for highway capacity and parking need to be better understood.”
But the Witney Gazette understands that Signet has now reached an agreement with Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for highways, which would see event management plans drawn up for match days, which would be continually reviewed.
Additional measures being considered include coach transport for fans and overspill parking on nearby land also owned by On The Edge.
Witney Community Stadium
Former Witney Town FC director Andy Lyne said he had mixed feelings about the rugby club’s plan.
He said: “It’s a good thing for the area, but still a disappointment for those of us who were involved with the football club. Obviously, we would rather it was football being played there.
“But if London Welsh’s proposal protects the facility, so football in Witney might once again benefit, then I’m sure football followers would give it their backing.”
Former chairman Steve Lake added: “It’s better being used for sport than to have it standing empty doing nothing.”
The planning sub-committee meeting starts at the district council's Woodgreen headquarters in Witney, at 2pm on Monday.
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