DARLINGTON’S new stadium has moved a major step closer after both of the club’s preferred potential sites were given approval in principle for the development of a football ground.

Quakers chief executive David Johnston revealed plans to leave Blackwell Meadows for a new home in May, and since then, club officials have been looking at potential development sites.

An initial shortlist has been whittled down to two remaining options, and while the club will not be revealing any details of location at this stage, the sites were discussed during a meeting with Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, and senior representatives of Darlington Borough Council on Friday.

While a formal planning application would be needed, both sites were approved in principle, meaning Johnston and his fellow directors can now begin drawing up and costing detailed proposals, with a view to kicking off the 2024-25 season in a new home.

“There’s a lot of things on the horizon, and the next couple of years are going to be very important for this football club,” said Johnston. “We had a very successful meeting last Friday with the council and with the mayor.

“We have talked about two sites, and both sites have got the approval in principle, although it would still have to go through a planning process. We’re working very closely with the mayor’s office, and with the team at the council, to look at which site can be delivered the quicker, with the right infrastructure in place. But there’s no reason why either site would be refused on planning, which is great news.

“So, the next stage is now working up the detailed cost of the stadium, and talking to the two different developers that have the sites about the commercial model. But it was a very exciting meeting last Friday, very good indeed. I’d like to think we could be kicking in a ball in the new stadium in the 2024-25 season.”

In the meantime, attention will be focused on the 2022-23 campaign that begins at the start of next month, with Johnston happy with the squad restructuring work that has been overseen by manager Alun Armstrong this summer.

Having signed striker Jacob Hazel at the end of last season, Armstrong has added the likes of Marcus Maddison and Mark Beck this summer, and while there might be a clamour for further additions, Johnston has revealed that the club has reached its spending limit.

“The fans did a fantastic job with ‘Boost the Budget’, but that budget is now spent,” he added, in an interview with the club website. “We’re looking to maybe bring in a couple of loan players from North-East clubs to strengthen the squad and give us a bit more cover, but when I see fans saying, ‘We need this, that or the other’, the only way we’re going to be bringing players in now will be on loan from the North-East clubs because we literally don’t have the budget left to bring anything else in. We’ve spent the budget now.”