WORLD class beach volleyball and martial arts facilities are coming to County Durham following the approval of scheme for £35m of investment in a university sports centre.

Durham University has been given planning permission for the major new development at its sports centre at Maiden Castle, on the outskirts of Durham city, with work to start in April.

Previous plans for an indoor tennis centre were dropped but the extension will now include beach volleyball facilities instead, as well as sports hall, cricket hall, gym, dojo for martial arts, and space for strength and conditioning.

The university’s director of sport Quentin Sloper said: “This could be transformative. There are too few good sports facilities in the county and in the region as a whole.

“This is a chance to change that.”

The new facilities mean that the number of community clubs operating from Maiden Castle will increase from 15 to 27 and the hours available for their use will increase by 200 per cent.

Concerns about the encroachment on Durham’s green belt, raised by a number of residents’ groups, were dismissed by councillors.

Roger Cornwell, speaking for the City of Durham Trust and Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, said the facilities should be built elsewhere, across a number of sites.

He said: “If facilities are split across sites, more alternatives become available, and sites that would be too small to hold everything can be considered.

“This would be the responsible approach for a major body such as Durham University to take, not d obvious harm to the green belt.”

Cllr Mark Wilkes, the only councillor to vote against approval, said: “Every time an application comes in for a development in the green belt we allow because of ‘very special circumstances’. I wonder how many very special circumstances there are.

“It’s green belt at the end of the day. The more we dilute that the more we get to the point that the green belt doesn’t mean anything.”

Cllr John Clare said: “I don’t want in any way to minimise the issue of encroachment on the green belt.

“If it was an open plain or beautiful park we would be outraged but this is a sports complex already. The new building is just an addition to the complex.

“There’s a massive benefit to the students and university. Let’s remember all the tens of thousands of students coming to the city over the years who will be able to come and take full advantage of the excellent facilities that will be provided.”