A PUBLIC-private partnership behind an ambition to build a £20m sports village and secure a long-term future for a stadium and attract additional facilities to a town looks set to be abandoned.

Darlington Borough Council’s leading members will next week consider halting its scheme with Darlington Mowden Park RFC (DMP), which had received £450,000 of support from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, and had been planned to feature an improved arena as a centrepiece with artificial pitches and a reconfigured concourse for events.

It was also hoped the scheme at the Northern Echo Arena would include a centre of excellence for sports development and additional sports and leisure uses, accompanied by a hotel, petrol station and food outlets.

A report to the authority’s cabinet states after the scheme was independently assessed for its viability, DMP was told there was little likelihood the council would continue with the venture.

Sources at the council said it had become apparent the scheme had been “overly ambitious”, that authority would not see an acceptable return on its investments and the risks it would face were too high.

They said there had been question marks hanging over whether the scheme could be financially self-sustaining since shortly after Darlington Mowden Park approached the authority in 2017 asking to work collaboratively on a proposal for the arena, the 23 acres owned by DMP and up to 42 acres of council-owned land beside it.

They said while the rugby club’s aspirations had become different to those of the authority, DMP had at one point requested the council provide £17m to support the scheme.

A DMP spokesman declined to comment on the council’s decision, but the cabinet report stated: “DMP believe that the sports village concept is a real opportunity to develop a flagship asset for Darlington, delivering positive outputs and impacts across sport, events, education, business, community services, health, employment, tourism and inward investment. Although it is acknowledged that initial investment is required to develop Darlington Sports Village to a position which allows it to operate as this flagship asset, DMP believe that the development will become self-financing.”

Under the plans it had been proposed the council’s sports facilities at Eastbourne be relocated to the sports village, creating space for a mixed-use, residential-led development at the Eastbourne site.

The cabinet report states DMP had accepted the findings of the viability study and had since confirmed it would explore other options which would ensure the future of the rugby club. It added DMP had confirmed it had identified a new source of financial support.

Councillor Kevin Nicholson, the authority’s health and housing cabinet member, said he was very disappointed the council could not pursue the scheme as “it was ambitious and would have taken sport in the borough onto the next level”. He said: “I would have loved to see the council involved in transforming that area, but the rugby club has plans to bring some investment there on a different scale.

Cllr Nicholson said the authority would now consider whether to improve facilities at Eastbourne Sports Complex, which he said had been neglected by previous administrations, or focus on creating improved sporting facilities elsewhere.

He said: “Eastbourne Sports Complex is home to some of Darlington’s most successful sports clubs. Although some of its facilities could perhaps do with a little updating, the fact remains that Eastbourne is a well-used and popular venue. We are also lucky to have a dedicated team of staff working at Eastbourne, who are committed to helping Darlington people stay active, healthy and happy.”

The authority’s Labour opposition leader, Councillor Stephen Harker, said plans to improve the facilities at Eastbourne complex had been put on hold due to the DMP ambitions. He said while improvements were needed, he was concerned finding money for such schemes could be difficult following the Covid-19 pandemic.