A RUGBY club behind a £20m ambition to create a sports village has stated the scheme can still be achieved, despite its public sector partner looking set to pull out of the project.

Darlington Mowden Park (DMP) has issued a statement over the future of proposals to redevelop the Northern Echo Arena and the area surrounding it ahead of Darlington Borough Council’s leading members considering a recommendation to abandon the authority’s part in the initiative.

The scheme features an improved arena as a centrepiece with artificial pitches and a reconfigured concourse for events, a centre of excellence for sports development and additional sports and leisure uses, accompanied by a hotel, petrol station and food outlets.

The cabinet meeting will hear the authority commissioned accountants to carry out a due diligence exercise on the business case prepared by DMP “to assess the deliverability of the scheme, test the key assumptions and the risks which could be potentially exposed to the council”.

An officers report to the meeting states: “Following receipt of the due diligence report officers have met with representatives of DMP and explained that due to conclusions of the report it was highly unlikely that it could be recommended to cabinet that the sports village proposal could be supported.

“While obviously disappointed DMP have accepted the findings and confirmed they would explore other options which would ensure the future of the rugby club.”

Despite the officers’ report, the club said it remained in an ongoing process with the council, but said it had “not been privy” to the full feasibility report that had led to the cabinet recommendation.

A club spokesman said: “In the view of the club and the project team, which includes professionals who have delivered multiple regionally significant developments, Darlington Sports Village is deliverable.

“Darlington Sports Village can represent a once in a generation development for our town and region with impacts and benefits for generations to come across: sport; events; education; business; community services; health; employment; tourism; and inward investment.

“The club’s view is that we should be ambitious and aspire for such facilities and outcomes for our region, especially when soundly backed and supported by confirmed commercial anchors.”

It also dismissed claims that the council had been asked to contribute up to £17m to the project and also poured cold water on concerns that the Covid-19 pandemic could affect the scheme.

The club spokesman said whilst DMP is facing “challenges and changes” due to the pandemic, it was in a financially secure position for the long-term.

The spokesman added: “The sole basis of the proposed equal joint venture is well documented as both parties pooling their current sporting facilities to then deliver an up to date and regionally inspiring community sport output.

“The club recognises its role as owner and custodian of the arena facility on behalf of the town and region and it would like to confirm its continued commitment for delivering a community-orientated site. It will continue to seek to progress with Darlington Borough Council and to gain clarity.”