WORK has begun on a long-awaited new £3m ground for a town’s football club.

A groundbreaking ceremony for Consett AFC’s new ground near Tesco at Crookhall took place on Thursday evening (March 14).

David Pyke, the club’s secretary, said: “Our club’s been waiting 12 years for this.

“It’s been embarrassing bringing teams up to play at Consett because of the poor facilities. Now we’ll be able to hold our heads up high.”

Chairman Frank Bell said delays had cost the club dearly and he hoped the ground would be ready for use within six months.

The club, currently in Ebac Northern League division one, has played at its current Belle Vue ground since the 1950s, when 7,000 people watched the stadium’s opening match, against Sunderland.

It is moving as part of a £43m academy school and leisure development being led by Durham County Council.

The new academy buildings, given planning permission following a long-running legal wrangle earlier this month, will replace Consett Academy’s existing North and South campuses, the former Consett Community Sports College and Moorside Community Technoloy College respectively.

The new leisure centre will replace the ageing Belle Vue facility.

The town’s rugby club will remain at Belle Vue, with improved facilities.

Councillor Claire Vasey, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “This turf cutting marks a new era for young people in Consett and I share their excitement at what is to come.

“The academy and leisure centre, alongside the investment in the local football and rugby clubs, are a significant investment in Consett that will bring major long-term benefits to the local community as a whole.”

Councillors Bob Young and Clive Robson and North Durham MP Pat Glass also attended Thursday’s ceremony.

The club hopes to give its Belle Vue ground a grand send-off with a match against a team from Newcastle or Sunderland.

It is hoped the new ground will attract outside bookings and welcome cyclists pedalling the nearby Coast to Coast route.