WOKINGHAM and Emmbrook have taken the lead in their efforts to install a stand and new floodlights at its Lowther Road home after planning officers earmarked the work for approval.
But club officials are not celebrating just yet, as the application has to be formally rubber-stamped by the planning committee at Wokingham Borough Council, which will decide on the matter when it meets next Wednesday (July 20).
A ‘yes’ vote from the panel will mean the Sumas can once again call Wokingham its home following many years in exile at grounds belonging to Bracknell Town and more recently, Henley Town.
But should the committee reject the application, which predominately is to add a 100-seater stand with wheelchair spaces, and five floodlights, then the future of the town’s football club could very well be restrained and continue to be away from the borough.
“Subject to the planning committee’s approval next week this is wonderful news for our football club and social club,” said Mark Ashwell, Wokingham and Emmbrook President and trustee of Emmbrook Sports and Social Club, which is based in Lowther Road.
“It is also wonderful news for our community. We can now make total use of our oasis of sporting endeavor in Wokingham.”
While the ground, which is also shared with Emmbrook and Bearwood Cricket Club, is the hub for the football club, stringent Football Association (FA) guidelines mean such infrastructure is necessary if the first team is to continue competing within Steps Five and Six of the Non-League pyramid – if not higher – in the future.
The application also requests permission to lay a concrete path running from the clubhouse to the football pitch and 1.1metre high fencing around it, while on-site parking provisions are also to be improved in order to provide 70 spaces on a mesh protected surface.
The application has divided opinion locally and representations for and against the plans are likely to be heard at the meeting.
While those associated with the club back the plans and argue the improvements are needed for both the benefit of Wokingham and Emmbrook and sport locally, objections have come from neighbours worried the additions will lead to parking problems on Lowther Road – especially if it will become the permanent home for many of the club’s junior sections – graffiti, intrusion from the floodlights and additional litter and noise through anticipated higher attendances and visitors.
Some living close to the facility, however, have thrown their support behind the proposals, but the application has also been met with mixed reactions at local authority level.
Winnersh Parish Council do not object to the plans but have asked for restrictions on the use of the floodlights, but Wokingham Town Council say such added infrastructure would “represent a scale of activity that is inappropriate to the character of a residential area and detrimental to the amenities of adjoining land users” and do not support the proposals.
It also argues the application does not comply with the borough’s adopted Core Strategy document, which aims to help map out future developments across Wokingham.
“There will be no intensification of usage,” added Ashwell.
“The cars will be parked off of Lowther Road, our spectators will keep dry and our patch of grass will be used after 3pm on a cold winter’s afternoon.”
Many will know the president from his role as Executive Member for Planning and Regeneration on the borough council.
He has declared an interest throughout the process and because of this will withdraw from the discussions and allow his fellow peers to come to their own conclusions when the plans go up for the debate.
The meeting will take place at Shute End, starting at 7pm.
Anyone wishing to speak about the application must contact the authority’s Democratic Services before 5pm on Tuesday.