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Step forward for rugby club stadium plan
AMBITIOUS plans to bring Darlington FC's derelict 25,000-seater stadium back from the dead have taken a major step forward, The Northern Echo can reveal.
Mowden Park Rugby Club shocked the sporting world when it announced plans to take over the £15m Northern Echo Arena, the former home of Darlington Football Club, in September.
Although the rugby club currently plays in the SSE National League 2 North and has an average attendance of about 200 officials have big plans.
It is understood the deal hinged on the rugby club reaching agreement with Darlington Borough Council to buy a 17-acre plot of land adjoining the stadium, for training pitches for its senior, junior and women’s teams.
That deal has now been agreed in principle, although the price negotiated by the two parties is commercially sensitive and has not been disclosed.
The council’s cabinet is expected to approve the details in a behind-closed-doors section of its meeting next week.
Talks have been ongoing between Mowden and council officials for several weeks, with the rugby club also agreeing a separate deal to buy the stadium from its owners, businessmen Philip Scott and Graham Sizer.
A spokeswoman for the businessmen said that deal was still progressing, while Mowden has confirmed it hopes to have both concluded before Christmas.
The stadium has been disused since the football club moved out earlier in the year, following its takeover by a fans’ group. Subsequent demotion to the Northern League meant the Quakers were forced to relocate to Bishop Auckland, although officials hope to return to a more modest venue in Darlington within three years.
Council leader Bill Dixon said: “This is the first good news that the stadium has had for a long time and should, with a bit of luck, guarantee its future as a sporting venue.
“Maybe not for football as it started out, but it will be providing sports facilities within the borough, which is what we are interested in.”
Mowden chairman John Widdall did not wish to discuss the plans at length until after the cabinet meeting, on Tuesday (November 6) evening.
He said: “The meetings between ourselves and the council have gone very well, terms have been agreed and we await ratification.”
Mr Widdall said he was confident the deal would progress quickly if the cabinet gives its approval.
The club wants to consolidate all its operations – which are currently spread across a number of venues – on one site.
Developer Bellway Homes has plans to build 67 houses on its current ground, at Yiewsley Drive.
Coun Dixon added: “Buying the stadium without the extra land was not sustainable for Mowden.
“We agreed to negotiate with them as quickly as possible, that has now finished.
“We got what we feel is a fair value for the land and Mowden are happy with it.
“There has always been an option for the extra land to be used for sports facilities, so what the rugby club has asked for fits in with the design brief.”
Mowden’s first team, currently sitting third in the SSE National League 2 North, is at home to Otley this weekend.