A FORMER professional footballer is demanding that council bosses take action to improve the condition of indoor sports facilities in Darlington.

Paul Bielby, who played for Manchester United, Huddersfield Town and Hartlepool United during his career, has written to the borough council leader to call for urgent action to be taken.

Mr Bielby, who runs the town's Masterskills Sporting Academy in the Haughton area, said local provision was going from bad to worse.

In a letter to council leader John Williams, he cited several issues affecting the town.

Mr Bielby questioned why indoor facilities at Archer Street, Larchfield Street and the Quaker Centre had been lost.

He also said Longfield School was one of only two specialist sports colleges in the country not to have a sports hall and that the new £33m Haughton education village had fewer sporting facilities than the present Haughton Community School.

Mr Bielby also hit out over the Darlington secondary schools' town sports event being held outside the borough for the past three years - in Shildon, Gateshead and Jarrow, South Tyneside.

He said the future of his own academy could be in jeopardy because of an impending 500 per cent rent rise.

"Another future rise will close us down," he said.

But last night the authority rejected much of the criticism.

It said the Archer Street, Larchfield Street and Quaker Centre complexes were not its responsibility.

A spokesman also said Longfield School had, in the past, opted for a swimming pool instead of a sports hall, although the council was aware of the desire for such a hall.

However, he said the authority did not presently have the money to finance such a development.

The education village would also have substantially more sporting facilities than the existing Haughton School.

The decision to relocate the town sports contest away from Darlington came from the schools' heads of PE, although the matter is thought to be under review for next year.

The spokesman also said the Master Skills academy had been heavily subsidised for several years.

"The authority has agreed continued use of the facilities until the next renewal date of June 2006 at a rate of £16.40 per hour - still considerably less than other local providers," he said.