THE Durham County Council leader, Coun Simon Henig, on Monday joined Sir Ian Botham in stressing that the Emirates Riverside Stadium must become a community asset.

Having come under fire for the £5m loans it handed Durham County Cricket Club, the council faced further criticism for agreeing to convert the residue of those loans into shares as part of the club's bail-out.

“Had we not done that 20-25 years of hard work in building the stadium would have been wasted,” said Coun Henig. “I'm confident we will recoup the outlay.”

In his first press conference as the club's chairman, Botham added: “We want to make the club more accessible to families and the community. This place should be operating 11 and half months a year and that's what we intend to do.”

Coun Henig welcomed Botham on board, saying: “Having Sir Ian as chairman is fantastic. It creates great interest because he's a giant of the game.

“His enthusiasm shines through and having him here is a very important first step towards having a sustainable county cricket club.

“It's crucial to connect with the community across the whole North-East and to encourage their involvement. This is the nearest international cricket ground for people across a huge area.

“When big matches are staged here the view of Lumley Castle being shown around the world does a lot for the region and promotes an image of the North-East.

“The Ashes Test in 2013 was one of this region's biggest sporting highlights. Having a one-day international this year is still a big deal, but we have to build back towards a position where we can stage Tests in the future.

“We are here to support Durham in any way we can. It's very important that the club doesn't get into financial difficulties again, but we are confident it is now on a firm footing.”