Association withdraws £250,000 after lack of council enthusiasm

Jordan Patrick gets stuck in for Bury Town, who are keen to move from Ram Meadow
Jordan Patrick gets stuck in for Bury Town, who are keen to move from Ram Meadow
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Suffolk FA has withdrawn £250,000 from the Bury Community Football Project because of Suffolk County Council’s perceived lack of enthusiasm.

The county branch of the Football Association (FA) believes the scheme — which would provide state-of-the-art football facilities and a new stadium for Bury Town Football Club in Moreton Hall — would not ‘have the profile and recognition it should’ if it was to share facilities with a new secondary school, set to open in September 2016.

The latest blow comes 13 months after plans were shelved for the original stand-alone project when tenders came in £1 million over the £2.5 million budget set out.

Suffolk FA chief executive Laura Smith — who described the association’s initial six-figure funding pledge as ‘an unprecedented step’ — said: “I felt it was getting diluted and the county council, during our discussions with them, weren’t that into it, as I hoped they would be.”

After the initial project fell through last year, talks started to link it with the new secondary school in Moreton Hall, which appeared to be going well until the news of Suffolk FA’s funding withdrawal broke on Wednesday.

In a statement released that day, Ms Smith admitted a 3G artificial pitch was ‘much needed’ for Bury, but added: “I personally feel that money generated through football should be invested back into football, and that football must be the priority of any facility we invest in.”

She also said Suffolk FA would ‘explore all possibilities’ to invest money into ‘a similar project of this type in the future’.

However, the association’s current funding U-turn 
created a backlash on social media, including from former Bury Town midfielder Michael Steward: “Surely working with schools is what Suffolk FA should be looking to do? Not shunning them because they want complete control.”

The Football Foundation, one of the funding partners for the original project, also offered Bury support.

Councillor Sarah Stamp, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s cabinet member for Leisure, Culture and Heritage, said: “While we are disappointed in the decision reached by the Suffolk FA, we will work with our partners to deliver excellent community sports facilities for the people of Moreton Hall.

“We continue to discuss future options with Bury Town Football Club and the new school.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council echoed St Edmundsbury’s statement.