Middleton Cheney split over future community complex

It was standing room only last night during a public meeting at the village's Sports and Social Club to discuss both the short and long term future of the building and surrounding sports field. .

By Stuart Prestidge
Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 3:44 pm
Middleton Cheney
Middleton Cheney

The future of the complex, on Astrop Road, was plunged into doubt earlier in the year when the private company running the social club announced they would cease operations on December 31 this year.

A number of meetings between the Parish Council, the Playing Field Association, residents and the Neighbourhood Planning team have been ongoing since to secure a future for both the club and the heavily used sports pitch.

In need of much renovation and expansion one solution mooted has been the sale of the land for an estimated value of £3m to £3.5m with that money used to purchase and develop one of three potential village sites into a multi-functioning sports and leisure facility.

Has the club come to the end of its life?

To that end, volunteer, resident and village sports coach, Wayne Campbell, distributed flyers and held an online poll to see if there was interest in the idea. He also arranged last night's public meeting for villagers to put forward questions, outline concerns and hear the proposed idea in more detail.

Of the three village sites proposed the most favourable seemed to be a short move up the road to a much larger site that would allow multiple sports pitches, including a dedicated cricket field, tennis courts, football pitch and an enclosed all weather AstroTurf pitch.

There would also be a community/social club, changing facilities a play ground and other assorted bits and bobs that could be added if and when concrete plans are drawn up.

Billed loosely as a feasibility study the meeting seemed one step removed from that and appeared almost to be a feasibility study to see if a feasibility study was feasible. No sale, plans or action on the current clubs long term future has been made.

Mr Campbell also presented a loose financial report indicating how the new facility would pay for itself per year by a combination of putting on events such as car boot sales, renting out large rooms for parties and receptions, hire costs generated from the AstroTurf pitch and a number of other possible revenue streams.

The initial land purchase and build cost would be covered by the sale of the current site.

During an open question and answer session following the presentations, emotions, at times, ran high with the main concern being the unwanted construction of up to 60 homes on the site and accessibility to any of the three suggested new sites.

Questions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous with a majority of, albeit, sensible questions, jumping the gun to direct issues of planning, to one resident regretting the fact that she wouldn't have a say whilst simultaneously standing up in a public meting and having her say.

Perhaps signalling the sign of the times one gentleman questioned the veracity of the 'for or against flyer/online poll' (which found 620 for 370 against), suggested it had been rigged and declared it carried "no mandate", which no-one had ever claimed it did.

In an moment of clarity a member of the Neighbourhood Planning team explained, like it or not, new homes are coming, as they are in almost any village within a 25 mile radius of Banbury, but villagers had the opportunity to take this inevitability and turn it into something beneficial to the village and its residents for years to come.

Over the course of the two hour meeting, however, the mood seemed to turn away from opposition to that of both acceptance and positivity for a potential new sports facility.

A poignant moment came when a villager of over 60 years and former chair of the social club said: "I have changed my mind tonight. This place has had its day. If the people of this village had supported the club it wouldn't be closing.

"Those that don't use it should stop moaning."

Intertwined amongst all of the talk of future builds is the next chapter of the current club which will begin on January 1, 2020, with Simon Lowe at the helm.

Middleton Cheney resident and owner of the Panto Bus, which provides touring theatre shows, Simon is looking for suggestions and help in keeping the current club open and can be contacted at [email protected]

The final twist in this evolving story is the small matter of who owns the current sports and club facility. There is no fight over this just a desire for clarity as both the PFA and the Parish Council may have ownership rights.

Currently legal teams are trying to clear up this matter and, once confirmed, next steps could include liaising with developers to determine what kind of outline planning approval could be made for the site, more public consultations on the specifics of a new leisure facility and eventually tending for bids on the current site..

For more information visit the PFA's Facebook page or the Middleton Cheney Parish Council's website.