PLANS aimed at improving sport and recreation facilities throughout the borough will be launched in April.

Darlington Borough Council has devised a five-year sports and recreation strategy following an independent report in October which criticised some of the town's sports facilities.

Special Olympians' training in Darlington, the provision of multi-use games areas and Easter holiday transport pilots are to be included in the proposals.

The council has said the plan will depend heavily upon the co-operation and support of national, regional and local organisations.

Work has already begun on securing funding for the projects. A bid for lottery money is also being sought for refurbishment of the Dolphin Centre and Arts Centre.

The Special Olympics team for 2005 will soon begin to train at Eastbourne complex on a regular basis as part of the strategy.

Dorothy Long, Darlington Council's cabinet member for leisure, said: "We already have first-class facilities in Darlington and this plan will allow us develop them further and make sport and recreation more accessible to more people."

In October the Audit Commission recommended the council devised a sports and recreation strategy by the end of last year.

The report described the condition of outdoor sport facilities, including children's play areas, as poor and said that facilities in the borough were lacking.

The commission identified key strengths and found that the Dolphin Centre, Stressholme golf course and outdoor facilities at Eastbourne sports centre were good.

Funding is being sought to help encourage people into careers in leisure and sports coaching - with a particular focus on young unemployed people or parents returning to work.

Working with the Local Education Authority (LEA) and schools, the leisure and arts council team is developing plans for a range of multi-use games areas in Darlington.

It is aimed at promoting improved PE standards as well as community access to sports facilities after school and during school holidays.

A transport trial pilot is also being considered. Supported by the Children's Fund, and created by young people for young people, the leisure and arts team are seeking to devise a pilot scheme providing transport to leisure venues during the Easter holidays.