A DIRECTOR of a national body that promotes participation in sport has criticised plans to merge two golf clubs in a £1m land swap deal.

Peter Rowley, a member of the Sport England board and the North-East’s regional champion for community sport, has outlined his reservations about plans to merge the private Blackwell Grange Golf Club and council-run Stressholme Golf Centre, in Darlington.

A strongly-worded letter from Mr Rowley, a former chief executive of Darlington Building Society, was read out a meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet on Tuesday (February 19).

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The plans took a step forward as the cabinet approved the £750,000 sale of Stressholme to Blackwell and the £1m purchase of the privately-run club’s land, subject to full council approval.

If it goes ahead, the deal could be completed by July and pave the way for an executive housing development on part of the land currently occupied by Blackwell.

Mr Rowley said: “As the largest investor in grassroots sport in the borough, the council has a duty to continue to protect and maintain municipal leisure facilities for all.

“It seems ironic that, following one of the greatest years for sport that this country has ever known, Darlington Borough Council seeks to entrust a public recreational asset to a failing private members’ club, rather than contribute to the legacy that the Olympic and Paralympic games promised to deliver.

“Denying the town a municipal golf option is inconsistent with the town’s public health obligations.”

The cabinet also heard from interested parties concerned that the £750,000 fee agreed for Stressholme – a public asset – was below market value and would leave the council vulnerable to it being sold on in the future, potentially netting Blackwell a handsome profit.

Councillor Stephen Harker, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for efficiency and resources, said that would not be the case as a covenant would be included ensuring the land remains as a golf club.

Mr Rowley also questioned the long-term aim of building executive housing on part of the Blackwell site.

He said: “There is no shortage of executive housing in Darlington.

“Building houses on the green spaces that contribute to the borough being a place where people want to live, work and play will detract from Darlington, not enhance it.

“Is this what building ‘a better Darlington’ has been reduced to, seeking a short-term saving rather than having the courage to take a longer view?”

The full council meets on February 28, when the merger will be discussed.

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