A £20m sports development that promised a new home for Darlington Football Club and hundreds of jobs has been scrapped after a row with council planners.

Fresh proposals to bring Darlington Football Club home to Blackwell Meadows would have created a sports hub and more than 700 jobs, according to Dubai-based entrepreneur Richard Upshall.

Following months of discussion, the plans were refused by Darlington Borough Council with officers highlighting limitations around planning permission, scale and impact on the local area.

Council leader Bill Dixon told the Echo the “too good to be true” plans were rejected because the authority did not have time or resources to help the developers make them viable.

His claims were dismissed by the team behind the ambitious project, headed by Mr Upshall and directed by Stockton’s Conservative leader Ben Houchen.

Mr Upshall – who made his fortune in the oil and gas industries – said his team at RU Sports Active had worked hard and already ploughed £100,000 into drafting detailed plans to secure the future of Darlington FC and Darlington Rugby Football Club.

The plans for Blackwell Meadows involved buying adjacent land, reinvigorating rugby club facilities and building a 5,000 seater stadium to accommodate the football club and other events.

The stadium-cum-sports village would have incorporated health and leisure-related ventures including physiotherapy, rehabilitation services, a gym and venues providing refreshment.

Any on-site businesses would have to pay a ‘footfall levy’, designed to generate income for the community and estimated at around £400,000 a year.

Darlington RFC’s chair Mike Wilkinson confirmed that the club was interested in the plans while Quakers’ chief executive officer Martin Jesper said the proposals would have been put to the club’s fans had the council agreed them.

The authority rejected the plans but said they would welcome an opportunity to work with the company at another site, an invitation turned down on the basis no other site in Darlington was considered appropriate for the large-scale project.

Mr Upshall said the council’s unexpected refusal was a slap in the face after months of negotiation and apparent interest from the authority.

He said his own interest came from a desire to invest in the North-East after years employing its residents and supporting start-ups in the region.

Mr Upshall said: “We weren’t talking about coming in and taking over the club but Darlington would have had its club back.

“We were going to make money and the clubs would have been sustainable for the next 25 years.

“At this time in the North-East should they throw in the face of a potential investor plans to create jobs and bring more investment?

“I’m trying hard to promote the area and bring in investment and it’s like I’ve been slapped in the face.

“It was a scheme that benefited everyone, a good opportunity and a sound investment.”

Cllr Dixon said DBC had treated the developers fairly.

He said the proposals lacked substance and the authority did not have the resources to develop them.

Cllr Dixon said: “People approach us with a range of ideas and it was our belief it would not be viable.

“If a deal is there that’s too good to be true, it often is – we couldn’t see it working without damaging the town centre.

“They wanted us to work on it with them but we don’t have the time, the cuts mean we’ve just about got enough to do the set minimum without helping people with speculative ideas.”

Darlington RFC’s Mike Wilkinson said he hoped the project could be revisited in the future.

He said: “The project was exciting and Darlington would have benefited, it would enhance that part of town and bring jobs.

“It was to be privately financed so there was no cost to the council.

“If the football club is willing to return there and we can come to some agreement with them, we can revisit it with the developers in the future.”

Martin Jesper said: “For the last couple of years, the football club has been open to discussion with any potential investor in the long-term interest of the club.

“Whilst disappointing, this particular opportunity has not met with the council’s approval.

“We continue our discussions with Darlington Rugby Football Club for a return to Darlington at Blackwell Meadows.

“Had plans with substance been presented, the club would have put them to the fans.

“Planning has not been allowed so we did not put anything to them that was speculative.”

Mr Upshall said the offer was still on the table.