BOSSES at an historic cricket club have defended plans to sell their ground for housing, saying the move is vital to its future.

Burnopfield Cricket Club has lodged a planning application to build a new club with modern facilities including a pavilion and function room at Crookgate Bank Top, on the edge of Burnopfield, near Stanley.

Meanwhile, Barratt Homes North East has filed a planning application to build 50 homes for first-time buyers and families on the club’s current ground, on Cricket Terrace.

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The club is one of the oldest in the North-East, formed around 1875. Its current ground, its home for nearly a century, is where legendary batsman Colin ‘Ollie’ Milburn, who won nine England caps, made his debut.

Michael Small, a club trustee, said: "The club has a long history at our current ground but it is an unfortunate fact that we simply cannot continue here, much as my heart would prefer to.

"We have explored all other avenues and this is the only option available to us if we are to secure our future and continue to provide suitable sports and leisure facilities for youngsters and the wider local community."

Mr Small said the new club would have top-quality facilities, a bookable function room to generate revenue, better parking and disabled access and be available to schools and community groups.

"The new club and its facilities would undoubtedly be an asset to the village," he added.

The new houses would be a mix of two, three and four-bedroom homes.

Mike Roberts, managing director of Barratt Homes North East, said the firm’s plans had been well received at a public exhibition and there had already been interest in the proposed homes.

"The planning applications go hand-in-hand and would bring positive benefits to the area.

"They would enable the cricket club to secure its future, recycle and improve a site which hasn’t been used for many years and provide a sustainable development of much-needed new family homes in the village," Mr Roberts said.

The planning applications are set to be considered by Durham County Council in the near future.