I am still trying to remain open-minded about Oxford United Football Club’s proposals to build an 18000 seater stadium on green belt land that forms part of the Kidlington Gap at Stratfield Brake. But as the County and District Councillor for the area that Stratfield Brake sits within, I think the County Cabinet’s agreement to enter into negotiations with OUFC was premature, given that there were still so many unanswered questions a year on from the initial approaches from the club to the council.
Of course we all want to help the club find a new home, but if we’re talking about using public assets to do that, we need transparency about what they’ve done to help themselves. For example, we still don’t have evidence that they’ve have explored all legal remedies to stay where they are.
It also appeared from the club’s own long-awaited report that they hadn’t even started looking at other alternative sites until October last year, after claiming at the beginning of 2022 that they had already explored all other options.
After waiting 8 months for the full report on the club’s plans, it took a further 2 months for it to be circulated to stakeholders in a heavily edited form which doesn’t suggest that they are willing to be as transparent with local residents and stakeholders as they have claimed in the past.
Kidlington Parish Council (KPC) had been waiting for most of last year for the report from the club showing their detailed plans for the main Stratfield Brake site (which they are leaseholders of) so that they could be put out to local consultation. They could not take a decision on relinquishing their lease until they had consulted with the local residents who they represent.
The club has tried to blame the council for delays in making a decision on the initial very broad proposals but that was simply not the case. KPC wanted to make a decision on an informed basis and had been working towards a genuine local consultation, but to facilitate that they needed details of what the club were proposing. Thus any delay in the decision by the council are entirely the fault of the football club. Instead of engaging properly with KPC to help them hold a local consultation, they have gone around them by moving their plans to the site known as the Triangle which KPC has no direct control over.
As a result, I made a plea to the cabinet to include an amendment to the proposals to enter into negotiations with the club that would also commit the council to a full local consultation on the proposals before any final decision was made which should include the option to accept or reject the proposals. This wasn’t even responded to.
As the local county councillor I was disappointed that my call to the County Cabinet for a full local consultation didn’t seem to be endorsed. That would at least have given local residents some comfort that their views, both for and against the proposals, would be properly taken into account.
There was a reference to future engagement with stakeholders but it’s not clear who would undertake this and if it would be at a point where the local community would have a chance to say yes or no to the plans once they know what they are. With so many questions still left unanswered, we need a definite assurance that such a consultation will be part of the final decision process, otherwise we may find ourselves overtaken by circumstances as plans progress and positions become embedded”.
Whilst I’m pleased to see the council took note of local concerns raised in last year’s country-wide engagement exercise, what is being proposed now is a rather different prospect and doesn’t completely deal with local views about having yet another significant development sited on some of Kidlington’s dwindling green spaces.
If we’re going to condone building on the green belt we need to ensure there is quantifiable local support for that. There are a range of views, as we saw at the meeting, and I want to make sure I’m fully representing the balance of local opinion, but until we ask the whole community we don’t know what that is.
My position as the local councillor for the area is that I have to support the majority view of the residents that will be affected by this development whatever they are. I don’t understand why there is a resistance from both the club and their fans as well as the council to asking local people directly what they think of this idea. There may be opposition, but there may equally be majority support for the plans. If so we can proceed on that basis knowing that the club would be welcomed by the village. Surely that would be a better outcome for all concerned, especially OUFC’s owners who I assume wouldn’t want to impose themselves on to a community that would resent them being there.
I will continue to advocate for a full local consultation both internally within the council and with other local representatives, particularly the local MP Layla Moran.