With Darlington FC set to move to a new ground next season, what will happen to its home for the past nine years – the 25,000 seater Darlington Arena? Stuart Arnold explores the potential options for the site on the outskirts of the town.
SUPERMARKET OR RETAIL DEVELOPMENT: WITH easy access to the A66 and the A1(M) the site would be attractive to a large supermarket chain, such as Tesco, which has previously tried and failed to build a supermarket in Darlington town centre. But it would be extremely unlikely to get planning permission. In a joint statement earlier this year Darlington Borough Council and businessmen Philip Scott and Graham Sizer – who own the stadium site – agreed as much, saying it would be against local and national planning policy and have a negative effect on town centre shops.
VERDICT: Very unlikely, especially with a large Morrison’s supermarket already at nearby Morton Park.
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HOMES: AN “eco-homes” plan formed part of a proposal by a Yorkshire-based consortium that was previously in the running to take over the football club.
The proposal is thought to have won some support from within the council; however, it would need formal planning permission and any substantial housing development on what was previously green belt land is sure to raise a number of objections. There would also be issues with access.
VERDICT: An outside possibility, especially if the stadium is demolished and agreement for the land is reached with Mr Scott and Mr Sizer.
ENTERTAINMENT VENUE: THE Arena already has permission to stage a number of concerts each year.
In June 2008, a concert by Sir Elton John drew 17,000 people – still the biggest crowd to date. But due to the costs of staging it, it failed to turn a profit for the football club. A number of acts were subsequently approached, including boyband JLS, but no further shows have been staged. There is potentially a large catchment area of concert-goers extending into County Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire who have to travel to Newcastle, Sunderland, further south to Leeds – where a new arena is being built – or Sheffield to see major concerts, so the venue could score in terms of its location. But would enough big names be attracted on a regular basis to make it commercially viable when there would be existing competition from elsewhere?
VERDICT: Hard to see how a standalone entertainment venue would make it pay, but successfully staged occasional concerts would supplement core income from a sports club.
HOTEL: PLANNING permission remains in place for a hotel and associated development on the site, dating back to April 2008 when George Houghton was in charge of the football club.
This was to entail a hotel, football academy and leisure complex. The wheels could be set in motion relatively easily with the signing of a legal agreement between the council and any developer who could negotiate a deal to buy the land. However, the plans previously stalled because of a lack of investors and such a development would hinge again on outside investment.
VERDICT: Remains the most practical option, setting aside a continued use for the stadium, but might be something of a risk in the continued gloomy economic climate.
SPORT: IT is understood there has been previous interest in the stadium from the Newcastle Falcons rugby union club – which already draws support from across the region – although this came to nothing. But it would still be a gamble to move 40 miles south and expect to attract enough of a crowd to make it a viable financial option, especially if the Falcons are relegated from the Premiership.
VERDICT: Might still happen, particularly if there is a groundswell in the town to retain the stadium for a sporting use.