Conflicting questions on Oxford United’s request to build a new stadium on council-owned land in Kidlington continue to cross the desks of decision-makers at Oxfordshire County Council.
This week’s meeting of the full council saw Councillor Calum Miller (Lib Dem, Otmoor), the county’s cabinet member for finance, face two very different questions on the proposals in quick succession.
The club (OUFC) announced talks with the county (OCC), the authority that owns Stratfield Brake Sports Ground, Kidlington, over the possibility of building a new 18,000-capacity stadium, hotel, retail and conferencing facilities and training and community grounds there.
It is currently leased via Cherwell District Council to rugby club Gosford All Blacks, Kidlington Cricket Club and local football teams, including juniors.
The council earlier this month announced that “it was recognised there were considerable challenges associated” with Stratfield Brake and that “(council) officers have now identified another potential location” south of Kidlington roundabout known as The Triangle.
The council added that they are “discussing its suitability with the club” ahead of the cabinet – the team of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors in charge – deciding on what to do next at a meeting on 24 January 2023.
Victoria Campbell addressed Councillor Miller to question how far the county is – or should – be going in its quest to help. She asserted that “the council has now proposed another area of green belt in the Kidlington gap”.
She added: “Does the council believe it is appropriate to be so actively involved in site selection for a stadium for a privately-owned commercial organisation, particularly when the site suggested is in the green belt and appears to contradict the local plan covering the area?”
Councillor Miller, who described Ms Campbell as having a “sustained interest in Kidlington’s growth and development”, said that “the cabinet specifically asked for the club to consider alternative sites”.
He continued: “The club has written to OCC explaining why other sites are not suitable. As part of this dialogue, officers requested that the club narrow the focus of its initial request to consider the piece of land known as The Triangle.
“This reflects the view that there were considerable challenges relating to the Stratfield Brake site. However, OCC officers are not involved in site selection. They are responding to a proposal from OUFC and seeking to establish the facts around that proposal before making any recommendation.”
He added that he “would expect the advice from officers to cabinet to cover” issues relating to the green belt and local plan “alongside other considerations relating to OUFC’s proposals”.
Councillor Imade Edosomwan (Lab, Leys) asked for an update, stating that “fans need to know that we are doing all we can to secure the future of the club” and for Councillor Miller’s “assessment of how the council has managed the process so far given the urgent need for a new stadium to be built by May 2026”.
Councillor Miller referred to the information requested from OUFC in March coming forward last month (November).
“For that period, while there has been dialogue between officers and the club, the club has been preparing information which we identified as critical to making further decisions,” he said.
“We are now moving towards a cabinet decision based on officer recommendations, and I believe the council has worked swiftly and cooperatively with the club in order to explore those opportunities.
“There is a diverse range of opinions about the merits of both the site and of other aspects relating to the proposal. It is very important that the council progresses in a way that allows for those opinions to be heard and taken into consideration as the cabinet comes to a decision on the best way to proceed.”