A £1.6m refurbishment plan for a Darlington leisure centre has been approved by council leaders.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet approved the proposals for improving the outdoor facilities at Eastbourne Sports Complex.

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This includes refurbishing the floodlit athletics track which a report said is “now at the end of its life cycle” and would otherwise have to close on safety grounds in the next few years.

It also includes a new artificial grass pitch if funding - offered at £700,000 - is awarded by the Football Foundation, and more parking facilities.

The complex, which was opened in 1999, provides facilities for athletic and football clubs which, in addition to schools, partners and casual use, generates about 170,000 visits a year.

Councillor Kevin Nicholson, cabinet member for health and housing, said: “I am delighted that cabinet has approved the proposal to invest £1.6 million at Eastbourne Sports Complex.

“The investment at Eastbourne Sports Complex will have a positive impact our communities’ health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, which is more important than ever for anyone who has felt an impact on their health due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The proposed upgrades to the running track will mean that Darlington schools will again be able to host accredited national school competitions, helping us to inspire and motivate future generations of young people for years to come.

“By improving access to and the range of facilities offered at the complex, more people across the town will be able to use and enjoy the outdoor sporting hub.”

Deputy mayor Cllr Anne-Marie Curry said at the cabinet meeting: “I really welcome this.

“I was a former athletics coach. We’ve lost our athletics from Darlington at the moment because of them having to go and train over in Middlesbrough.

“So I do welcome them coming back into Darlington. It’s something that we should be proud of, the legacy of the club and the kudos it could bring to us if we could hold competitions in Darlington in the future. I really look forward to it.”

Cllr Nicholson said: “I’ve met with several groups at the complex and they’ve all been very passionate about campaigning to get that type of thing back and hold school sports competitions.

“We’re not able to safely host those things so I’m looking forward to a time when we’re able to do that.

“We attract over 170,000 visitors and we hope to increase that. It’s a really welcome move.”

The plan will go to full council for final approval later this month.

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