PLANS for a £14m leisure centre on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland are still on track, a developer has claimed.

The Northern Echo first reported on the proposed Fusion21 Active Village Complex in 2009, and the man behind the plan Ken Houlahan said significant behind-the-scenes progress has been made since then.

Mr Houlahan, a former amateur football club manager, has earmarked wasteland at St Helen Auckland near Bishop Auckland FC’s Heritage park stadium for his plan, and said the proposal has evolved to incorporate a swimming pool as well as football facilities.

He said: “Dreams for a novel leisure facility for Bishop Auckland are still very much alive following protracted negotiations, which have been on-going since 2009.

“The original plans for an indoor soccer centre with fitness, sports testing and medicine facilities have been extended, following extensive discussions with Durham County Council over the past four years.

“The discussions have produced plans for a comprehensive state-of-the-art, 21st Century, combined wet and dry facility.

“The facility will ensure the Olympic legacy is firmly established in the area, will complement existing St Helen leisure and retail development, and contribute significantly to local regeneration.”

Mr Houlahan said progress had been hampered by funding cuts from the Government but insisted it is on track.

He said: “Local authorities can no longer afford the capital build and revenue costs of subsidising leisure.

“This venture will be a Public Private Partnership and will use, amongst a significant number of other funding sources, a Private Finance Initiative (PFI).”

The eventual aim is for the complex to be self-sustaining financially with profits reinvested into local leisure, Mr Houlahan claimed.

The new building would also be the base for a new sport programme aimed at supporting existing sports clubs and starting new groups to get people active.

The plans have received support from West Auckland county councillors Rob Yorke and Andy Turner.

Councillor Yorke said: “It is an ambitious plan but it is looking like a reality.

“It is because of the success of the new facilities at St Helen that we can look to expand with even more exciting plans.”

A public consultation on the new sport village is due to be held soon.