TWO businessmen have relinquished a debt of more than £2m to become owners of a football stadium and development site.

Philip Scott and Graham Sizer are the latest owners of The Northern Echo Arena stadium site in Darlington after no other buyers came forward.

The pair – former senior executives at care home company Southern Cross Healthcare, based in Darlington, forced the sale in February to recoup a debt they were owed by the club’s holding company.

The debt, dating from when former chairman George Houghton owned the club, was initially £1.7m, but rose to more than £2m with interest.

The pair called in the receivers and instructed property firm Edward Symmons to sell the ground, which cost £20m to build less than a decade ago, and the surrounding land.

However, because no buyer matched the asking price, the two businessmen have taken ownership as first-ranking creditors. They have set up a company called Darlington Arena Limited to control the site.

A spokesman for Mr Scott and Mr Sizer said yesterday: “They own the site and will act as stand-offish landlords for the time being.

“There is no immediate or medium-term plans to do anything beyond that.”

The club pays a peppercorn rent for the land. That will increase next month to £10,000 a year under a 13-year agreement.

The spokesman said the agreement would continue and that the sale would have no other impact on the football club, which will take all proceeds from the ground.

He said: “They (Mr Scott and Mr Sizer) wish the football club well in their football activities.”

When news of the sale proceedings broke in February, current chairman Raj Singh threatened to walk away amid the financial crisis.

Were he to leave, the rent would be reviewed and be set at a minimum of £50,000.

Although, he did not want to comment yesterday, it is understood that he has no intention of walking away from the club, in which he has invested more than £2.5m of his money since he took over two years ago.

Instead, The Northern Echo understands that he will continue to seek negotiations with Mr Scott and Mr Sizer in order to buy the land back for the club.

Plans for a 100-bed hotel, offices, a football academy and other buildings on the land were approved in March 2008, although a full agreement has not been signed.

A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said that if the contract was signed, officers would have to ensure the plans met current planning regulations.

Mr Scott and Mr Sizer’s spokesman said they had no current intention to go ahead with the application.