IT has been the scene of countless sporting battles down the years but the biggest in its history is now set to come to an end with the right result.
The sporting future of the Victory Ground in Bury St Edmunds is set to be secured for generations to come thanks to a £2 million cash injection as part of a council sale to the community.
After several years of negotiations, current land owners St Edmundbury Borough Council have revealed they are now prepared to sell off the lease to a community group who plan to gave the out-dated facilities a major facelift, subject to councillors rubber-stamping the proposal at a cabinet meeting next week.
The new facilities, which already have architects drawing and which the Free Press has learned could be completed by 2013 if given the green light, would see:
n An increase in the number of sports and participation at the Victory Ground.
n A new 5,000sq ft cricket pavilion, giving Bury’s cricket club a home to rival the best in East Anglia and help attract more top-level matches – such as when England captain Alastair Cook visited with Essex last summer.
n The Victory Ground become a centre of excellence for girls’ and women’s cricket.
n Indoor sports hall for South Lee School as well as community sports clubs such as badminton and basketball.
n Four plush new changing rooms for the many teams, including footballers, who currently play there.
The former Greene King-owned grounds have been leased to community group Victory Sports Ground Limited by the council since 2001. But the freehold would transfer fully to the entity – incorporating Bury Cricket Club, South Lee School and Sporting 87 FC – as a community interest company (who use profits for public use), subject to next Wednesday’s council meeting.
The move would finally pave the way for long-held plans to be put in action, as the current short-term lease means the uncertain future of the grounds has prevented grants, particularly from the England Cricket Board, being released.
Bury St Edmunds Cricket Club chairman Paul Whittaker, helping spearhead the bid as chairman of Victory Sports Ground Limited, said: “In order for us to make the necessary investment to build new facilities we need the security we get from owning the land.”
If the move to sell the land is approved, as recommended, at the cabinet meeting next week, Victory Sports Ground Limited will then proceed with a planning application to begin rejuvenating the existing run-down facilities.
“We have already done a lot of the design work and we have raised the necessary finance to complete the project,” added Whittaker. “We have been trying to get this project up-and-running now for more than two years.”
First team manager of football team Sporting 87, Jonathan Warnock, who has moved the side to the Victory Ground with the long-term aim of being able to prove they have the facilities to allow them to move up to the Suffolk & Ipswich League Senior Division (presently in Division Two), said: “The pitch facilities have always been excellent and to have changing facilities to match that will help all the clubs progress. I think it is brilliant for Bury. What it does is secures that facility. We are losing too many sporting facilities.”
South Lee School, which sits across the road, is set to pump £1.5 million of their own funds into the project, with the ground set to be sold at an unspecified market value.
Vice chairman of South Lee School of Governors, David Barker, hailed the “superb facility” that would be available for pupils and the community.
Leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, John Griffiths, added: “I strongly support this initiative which puts a local community firmly in charge of a much valued local facility. There will also, and importantly, be legal protection to ensure its future as a sports ground and I hope my cabinet colleagues will approve the idea which makes so much sense for all concerned.”