Darlington Football Club’s new stadium could include additional sports, retail and hospitality facilities, with two areas in the north of the town identified as the preferred location.  

The new ground could be sited at Skerningham or Faverdale, The Northern Echo can reveal, as the club continues its expansion plans to make it fit for purpose for the Football League.

The Quakers are yet to confirm the two sites, and say it is in confidential discussions, but information obtained by the Echo shows the two locations are on the shortlist.

The club has spent the last six years playing at Blackwell Meadows, having opted to groundshare with Darlington RFC after leaving their previous temporary home at Bishop Auckland.

However, they do not own the stadium, and have therefore decided that it does not make financial or practical sense to spend the money that would be required to improve Blackwell Meadows to the level that is required for admission back into the Football League.

The Northern Echo: The club currently shares Blackwell Meadows but now wants a permanent home The club currently shares Blackwell Meadows but now wants a permanent home (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

The new stadium, which will allow capacity of between 5,000 and 8,000 fans, could be built in time for the 2024-25 season. It will include new training facilities which will be rented out to clubs, schools and the community to help provide a sustainable and regular income stream for the Quakers, which became fan-owned in 2012.

An adjacent retail park could include drive-thru food outlets such as Greggs, Costa and Burger King and would help generate further income.

The Skerningham option is likely to be contentious, however. A planning row over the potential Skerningham Garden Village which has been earmarked in the council’s Local Plan for housing and community facilities continues. The Local Plan inspector has agreed the proposal in the Local Plan that up to 1,650 houses and facilities such as a GP surgery and schools could be built during the plan period up to 2036.

The Northern Echo: The site of the proposed Skerningham Village developmentThe site of the proposed Skerningham Village development (Image: The Northern Echo)

Darlington’s chief executive David Johnston and his fellow directors are due to start drawing up and costing detailed proposals, with a view to submit a planning application by March. The club has received the backing of local politicians and authorities and is now finalising details on land acquirement.

In a recent message to fans, Mr Johnston said the plans have hit a small delay but should soon speed up in the new year. “The parcels of land are being acquired and secured for the village developments and once that happens we will be granted an option, once we grant that option we can then start the formal process of looking at a detailed design,” he said.

Among the expansion plans include an ambition to generate additional income outside of football matches.

Mr Johnston said: “We’re working through a commercial model and the intention is that we have our main ground, pitches, all the stuff that’s required for the training but in addition to that we’re driving income from different sources on that land. The intention is that what we put on the land produces a revenue in excess of the annual mortgage of the stadium.

“Early in the new year we’ll be talking to people about supporting us with the ground development costs to help get the detailed design done.”

A similar development at fellow non-leaguers AFC Fylde is seen as inspiration, with Johnston also exploring the idea of creating bars and restaurants, hospitality suites, executive boxes, while also hosting weddings and other sporting events.

Mr Johnston added: “These things take time to put together, the fans have been brilliant in supporting, but that’s not going to fund a ground so you’ve got look at an alternative business model that is well thought out, well put together and drives commercial revenue.”

“I’m pushing hard to get this resolved as fast as possible.”

The Northern Echo: Darlington FC chief executive David Johnston with Tees Valley mayor Ben HouchenDarlington FC chief executive David Johnston with Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

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Mayor Houchen commented: “This club has been through some difficult times in the past, but now it has the right leadership and a sensible, well thought-out and realistic plan.

“We don't yet know the final two sites as this is only known by the club and the council, however, whatever the site may be, it would be great for the club to finally have its own stadium.

“Darlo are top of the league, having a great season and this is a step closer to finding a long-term home for this much-loved team, and the promised state-of-the-art stadium will match the team's ambitions and which the town deserves.”