THOSE associated with Wokingham and Emmbrook Football Club are tonight celebrating its permanent return to the borough.
Football is finally coming home after the Planning Committee at Wokingham Borough Council gave its backing to an application to install a 100-seater stand and new floodlights at its home in Lowther Road.
Such infrastructure is needed if the Sumas are to continue competing in Steps Five and Six of the Non-League pyramid.
Football Association (FA) guidelines state clubs within these tiers must have a stand, floodlights and hardstanding, among other requirements.
Because Lowther Road does not currently possess such facilities, Hellenic Division 1 East side Wokingham and Emmbrook have long played in exile at temporary homes such as Egham Town, Bracknell Town and, more recently, Henley Town in order to preserve its status at this level of the game.
Although a resounding victory for the club, with the propsals passed by four votes to one, there has been some objection to the improvement work.
Two neighbours spoke at the meeting to raise concerns about light pollution within nearby houses and among properties in nearby Old Forest Road, additional noise, traffic and parking along Lowther Road.
There was also a letter read out on behalf of another resident who felt there was sufficient access for disabled supporters.
While sharing some of worries, members sought the advice of the authority’s planning officers, who felt such issues would be addressed within the conditions imposed on the application.
It was also stated the proposed stand meets all requirements within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and British Standard Institution requirements.
Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey, ward member for nearby Winnersh, voted against the proposals due to reservations about a lack of commitment to remove the current floodlights at the venue and noise.
She also suggested installing more toilets to stop players urinating up against trees on matchdays, but such work was deemed to be a further intrusion on the site.
“It should be a yellow card!” she said.
Local representative, fellow member and vice-chairman of the committee, Cllr Chris Singleton, summed up the matter by saying: “It is a difficult situation because this is a local sports club and we want to support sport in Wokingham.”
Those speaking up for the club, though, argued the improvements will have little impact on the neighbourhood and will provide a safe environment for all its age groups to progress within the game.
Chairman Graham Tabor, meanwhile, explained how a yes vote for the plans would “safeguard the club’s structure and Lowther Road as a sports facility for years to come.”
Officials also intend to work closely with those living nearby to try and help alleviate their concerns.
The approved application, which also includes the laying of a footpath running from the pitch to clubhouse and on-site mesh protected parking for 70 vehicles, has further limitations, however.
The floodlights must not be used before 9am or after 7pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays.
They cannot by switched on either anytime between Monday and Friday, only with the exception of 20 matchdays per year, but must then be off by 10pm.
Nonetheless, this is a momentous occasion for the club and its loyal group of volunteers, with the likes of chairman Graham Tabor, new manager Clive McNelly and president Mark Ashwell this evening seeing many years of tireless and committed work finally reap its rewards.
The project is likely to cost Wokingham and Emmbrook in the region of £140,000.
An FA grant will cover £100,000 of this, with the club raising the rest.