THE LONG-TERM future of Pontypool RFC at its famous ground has taken a major step towards being secured after a planned upgrade was given the green light.

The rugby club's plans to enclose the grandstand, pitch and terraces with a 2.4 metre high fence as well as making upgrades to existing facilities were approved by councillors on Tuesday.

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The club had threatened to leave Pontypool Park - its home of more than 70 years - after difficulties finding a solution to anti-social behaviour and vandalism incidents.

However talks with Torfaen council in January resulted in an agreement to amend a historic covenant which did not allow protective fencing to be erected.

The plans received widespread support in the community, though some concerns were raised over the impact of the green mesh fencing on the grade II*-listed park.

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At the planning committee meeting, objector James Lewis said the park needed to be protected for the public, arguing the fence would become "an eyesore" and risked spoiling views.

However the club's chief executive, Ben Jeffreys, said the scheme was designed "to look after everybody's interests", including users of the park.

He said: "The level of investment is likely to reach into seven figures.

"We are doing that not as some scheme to make our money back.

"We are doing it because we care about the town, we care about Pontypool and we care about this club."

Ward councillor Gaynor James also spoke in support of the plans, arguing that protective fencing was needed to stop 'dangerous' incidents of anti-social behaviour.

Cllr James said the park is for everybody, including the club which "put the town on the map", and its hundreds of supporters.

"If we lost Pontypool rugby club from Pontypool it would be part of Pontypool's heart ripped out," she added.

Cllr Jason O'Connell said the upgraded ground could encourage more people to visit the club and the park.

The plans include a renovated grandstand, with new seating, side screens, a replacement scoreboard and new player dugouts.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Jeffreys said: "This is a hugely significant development and gives real hope to our supporters that Pontypool RFC will be able to remain at its rightful home for decades to come.

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"For several months, we have been working incredibly hard to navigate through some exceptionally challenging legal components that all have to be overcome to ensure our dream becomes a reality.

"We are now two thirds of the way through the process and whilst the outcome of the Playing Field Regulations consultation remains to be seen, planning presented the biggest level of complexities that had the potential to derail progress."