Residents and a local authority have been criticised for not supporting a new football centre after a planning appeal was dismissed. 

The Russell Foster Sports Foundation submitted plans to build the new facility with 20 football pitches and an indoor sports centre, in Leamside, County Durham. 

Bosses at the organisation proposed building it at the current site of Leamside Equestrian, off Pithouse Lane, near Houghton le Spring as part of an upgrade to its current facilities in Newbottle, Sunderland. 

But concerns over the proposed site’s rural location in the green belt and lack of public transport access saw a Durham County Council (DCC) planning committee refuse the plans in July 2023

Objectors also warned of flying footballs causing a hazard to motorists on the nearby A1(M) motorway. 

The applicant appealed the decision, but a planning inspector also ruled the proposal would be inappropriate in the green belt. The decision was praised by residents and the local MP but was criticised by the applicant in a stinging statement. 

David Armstrong, a foundation trustee, said the youth football centre is “badly needed” in the area and would help reinforce the organisation’s grassroots football legacy. 

He added: "The indoor facilities would have been invaluable to the youngsters, as well as providing community facilities that are lacking in the area. 

“Shame on you Leamside residents for opposing this development, and shame on DCC for not supporting the application in the first place.”

The Northern Echo: The proposed pitch detail masterplan The proposed pitch detail masterplan (Image: The Northern Echo)

Although the inspector found there would be “significant benefits” they said they did not outweigh the lack of accessibility and harm to the Green Belt. 

Inspector Susan Heywood added: “Consequently, the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development do not exist.”

Around 23,000 youngsters participate in the youth leagues and it has been praised for providing a platform and facilities to young stars throughout the region. First formed in 1976, it was the launchpad for dozens of North East footballing greats including Paul Gascoigne, Jordan Henderson, and Stewart Downing. 

Russell Foster said the organisation’s five sites often fall foul to the weather and the new Leamside facility would have provided all-year-round indoor matches. 

He added: “It is a sad situation when a sports development for under 10 year olds is blocked by a campaign of local people whose prime concern of traffic had already been accepted by the highways department and planners. 

“There are a lot of mams and dads who are going to be extremely disappointed.”

Durham County Council opened the door for future discussions with the foundation to help enhance football facilities in the region. 

Stephen Reed, strategic planning manager, said: “We are aware that the appeal has been dismissed by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate. However, we share Mr Armstrong’s commitment to enhancing County Durham’s sport and leisure offer, especially when it comes to creating opportunities for children and young people. 

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“We are happy to meet with representatives from the Russell Foster Youth League to discuss and offer advice about any future plans they have to expand their activities in County Durham.”

But Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham, reiterated her view that the proposed site is not appropriate. The Labour MP said: “I was clear from the moment this application was submitted that I would welcome Russell Foster into the constituency, but that such a development would have to be in the right place.

“Sadly, my attempts to start a conversation on a more appropriate site were not responded to. It was obvious that a 20-pitch football facility was simply not sustainable and would have had a huge impact on the small community in Leamside. This is a big victory for everyone who worked really hard to point out how inappropriate this application was.”