EFFORTS to delay the controversial merger of two neighbouring North-East golf clubs are doomed to failure, a council leader has warned.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet last week approved plans to sell-off the publicly-owned Stressholme Golf Course to the private members’ club at Blackwell Grange.

The deal, which involves the sale of the Stressholme land for £750,000 and the purchase of land at Blackwell for £1m, could be completed by July.

It could pave the way for a future executive housing development on land currently occupied by part of the Blackwell club.

Last week, Sport England director Peter Rowley criticised the plans, saying the council has a duty to maintain and protect municipal sports facilities.

Mr Rowley has property close to where a future housing development could spring up. The same applies to Clive Owen, senior partner in a Darlington firm of chartered accountants.

Mr Owen has written to all members of the council calling for the future of Stressholme to be reviewed by an independent panel over a period of six months.

He believes his proposal would be widely supported, but Darlington Council leader Bill Dixon has said there is no forum to discuss the meeting, as the cabinet has already approved the merger.

A full meeting of the council will be held on Thursday (February 28), but the golf club merger will only be discussed in the context of budget deliberations.

Mr Owen’s proposal includes six factors he would like to see an independent panel consider, including whether the land at Stressholme is worth more than the £750,000 the council is paying for it.

He said: “I am told by people far more knowledgeable than me that it could be worth northwards of £50m [if sold for development].

“If that is correct, it must be worth exploring in more detail.

“I do hope councillors will see the merit of reviewing a complex proposal, when there may be other solutions which are more favourable to the residents of Darlington.”

Coun Dixon said: “The reality is that Stressholme will not be built on, our planners have been very clear on that.

“If the merger did not go ahead, we would see one golf club closed by the council and another potentially lost to lack of members. This is the best result for the town.”

Coun Dixon added that Sport England had commended the thorough consultation process the council had conducted on the issue.

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