In response to recent inaccurate and misleading social media posts, the Council feels it is necessary to provide a summary of Witney Town Council’s position in respect of Pitch One at The Leys.
Sport is not being banned at The Leys, as sport and recreational use will continue, in line with its historic purpose.
The Sainsbury’s side of the Leys where Pitch One (the adult pitch) is located is also used for a series of highly popular events throughout the summer, which are fast becoming staples in the town’s calendar.
As a result, Pitch One has been degrading over the last five or so years as a result of increasingly heavy usage throughout the year, despite Witney Town Council’s increased investment in renovation and maintenance work. In 2019 the football season finished two weeks early to allow for pitch work to be carried out before the first of the events on the Leys, but the benefits of this work were undone once the event season started.
It has now dropped below the required safety standards for organised competitive sports, as set out by a number of bodies, including the Football Association and STRI, the Sports Turf Research Institute who inspected the pitch and documented their findings in a report, two years ago (see extract below).
It has become apparent that, it is no longer sustainable to use the pitch for both sports and events, as there is insufficient time between the two to carry out the full remedial works required to bring the surface back into playable standard. Other solutions have been explored but have not proved practical or affordable. For example, to purchase the necessary boarding to hold events over the top of the pitch without affecting it, would cost in excess of £100,000.
Witney Town Council, has a responsibility to both the Home and Away teams using this sports pitch to provide a safe surface, as well as a responsibility to the town to ensure the continued success of its events. After much discussion between Councillors, as well as dialogue with the various groups that use the pitch, the decision was taken to dedicate that half of The Leys to events only.
The Town Council remains committed to supporting local, grassroots sports, and accommodating additional need as our town continues to grow. As part of its investigations into possible solutions, replacement sports sites have been identified, which will offer facilities not only comparable to those at The Leys, but of an arguably higher and more modern standard, in the future.
At the same time, it is also committed to providing and facilitating the top-quality culture and leisure events that the people of Witney have come to expect. To achieve both of these outcomes is not an easy balancing act and requires difficult decisions to be taken in the short term in order to resolve the matter satisfactorily in the long-term.
In order to ensure that the original spirit of The Leys as a place of sports and recreation will continue long into the future; the other side of The Leys (where the Coffee Shed is) will be used almost solely for sports, with the exception of long-standing traditions and family favourites such as Witney Carnival and Witney Feast. Football will continue with the four junior football pitches and tennis, mini golf, bowls and cricket, and along with the Splash Park and play area will provide a wide range of high-quality opportunities for physical activity.
The Town Council has the deepest respect for our sports teams and over the last decade has increased the number of Junior pitches by twelve to help accommodate our mix of 49 adult and junior football teams. It welcomes anyone who wishes to constructively help achieve this, for the benefit of the whole town, now and in the future.
Finally, Witney Town Council is disappointed to see inaccurate, deliberately misleading rumours being disseminated on social media while it is working tirelessly to provide the modern, safe, and accessible facilities that the people of Witney deserve.
These kind of comments generate further unhelpful and unfounded speculation, such as the suggestion that the land will be sold off for housing or other development. Witney Town Council can reassure its residents that The Leys is safe from this particular threat.
In 2018 the Town Council had the foresight to register and designate The Leys as a Field in Trust which affords it protection from development and preserves it for the enjoyment of future generations.
The issue with Pitch 1 was highlighted in an advisory report to the Town Council following an inspection of all our sports grounds; football, cricket, bowls etc. by our sports turf consultants.
Here is the extract.
The area designated for football pitches at Leys is deemed unsafe for use following continued use for alternate events throughout the year prior to the football season. The surface has become severely
compacted during the installation and take-down of a stage during inclement conditions, when no protective boards were employed to spread weight and wear to the area. A Clegg Hammer reading
was taken in the site of one of the goalmouths and a value of 315 gravities was recorded when the typical value expected for a football pitch is between 70-90 gravities. As such, it is recommended that the site is no longer used for natural sports pitches as it presents a genuine Health & Safety risk with regards to significant injury to players and officials alike. With the provision of a sound and permanent irrigation supply, extensive renovations and the reservation of the field solely for sportspitch use, the area could be restored to provide a playable and safe surface BUT this will deteriorate significantly if other events resume.