THE future of a beloved sports ground threatened by development now lies in the hands its new owners – Bicester Village.

Oxford Road Sports Ground in Bicester, run by Bicester Sports Association (BSA), has long faced plans by developer U+I to demolish the current facilities and build shops and homes in their place.

But in a shock turn of events yesterday, Bicester Village owner Value Retail announced it had acquired the contract from U+I and was taking on the whole site.

However it still remains unclear what the company plans to do with its new acquisition which is next door to the outlet centre.

In a statement Value Retail said: "We are delighted to be further investing in Bicester town and are committed to supporting the future growth of Bicester and the local area.

"The Oxford Road Site will continue to be operated by BSA us usual whilst they finalise and implement plans for the upgraded sports facilities at Chesterton.

"We have not considered any plans for the site at present and will take the necessary time to do so in consultation with local stakeholders."

Bicester Sports Association sold the ground to developers in 2015 under condition of planning permission being granted, but plans were yet to make it past the consultation phase.

The trust said the investment needed at Oxford Road meant it was not viable to keep open and instead planned to move all its sporting facilities to its other site in Chesterton.

The plans were met with local concern for sports being moved away from Bicester's town centre and, three years on, 2,376 people have signed a petition to 'Save Bicester's communal sports ground'.

The petition's creator and local resident Callum Vinall said yesterday he was optimistic about Bicester Village's intentions for the site.

He went on: "I see this a positive change in assuring Oxford Road Sports Ground's future.

"This is a chance for Bicester Village to put the Bicester community first and keep Oxford Road as a sporting hub.

"Not only would this be more aesthetically pleasing to shoppers, it would improve the image of Bicester Village amongst residents by restoring Oxford Road for the people and generations to come."

Bicester town councillor for the area Dan Sames said having spoken with Bicester Village, councillors had been told there were no plans in the pipeline to develop the land and that the company wanted to 'engage with stakeholders to explore long-term usage'.

Speaking on behalf of all Bicester county councillors and Bicester south councillors, he added: "The public feel a great sense connection to the Oxford Road Sports Ground.

"I and other councillors intend to work within the district plan making progress in an attempt to secure the long-term future for the land as recreational use."

As part of the announcement this week, the BSA also revealed details of the expansion work it has planned for Chesterton Sports Ground.

The site at Chesterton, once complete, would be over six times the size of the Oxford Road ground and aim to be a 'sporting hub'.

The trust said it would transfer all amenities from Oxford Road sports ground and 'substantially upgrade' them to include a new indoor shooting range, archery area, shared clubhouse and car park.

Bicester Sports Association chairman Alistair Murphy said: "These plans are the culmination of many years of hard work and we’re extremely proud of what’s been produced.

"We believe that this investment represents a step-change in sports provision for the local area.

"We hope that local people will support our vision for Chesterton, which is so important for the future of sport in Bicester.

"We recognise that some people would prefer sports pitches to remain at Oxford Road but the reality is that we cannot afford to continue operating it or financing it at that location.

"We believe that our Chesterton proposal represents the best possible solution.

"Not only does it deliver more pitches and much better facilities, but it allows all our user clubs to continue to benefit from use of the facilities at heavily subsidised rates."

Plans will be put to the public for consultation before submitted to Cherwell District Council for approval.