A County Durham couple have been given planning permission to build a £3.5million competition centre they hope will be used as a training base in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.

An 83x40m indoor arena with seating for 2,500 will be the centrepiece of the scheme at Hilton Moor Farm, Evenwood Gate, near Barnard Castle.

Close by will be a 60x25m warm-up arena, with two further outdoor arenas, a horse walker, cross-country course and galloping tracks.

There will also be temporary overnight stabling for 600 horses, as well as a restaurant, cafe and tack shop.

The scheme to build the largest national competition venue in the north of England is the brainchild of Barbara and Lou Elliott, who are financing the project.

“It will be the first centre of its kind in the north of England, accommodating show jumping, dressage, side-saddle, showing and indoor polo,” said Mr Elliott.

British Equestrian Federation (BEF) regional development coordinator for Yorkshire and the north-east Emma White told H&H the BEF had been unaware of the plans until now.

“Our centres in the north of England are getting a bit tired,” she said. “Over the border we have some cracking centres like Rowallan and Ingleston, but nothing in northern England like the one being planned.”

Ms White added: “Barnard Castle is a long way from any motorway network, but if it’s good enough, people will go.”

Councillor Phil Hughes, chairman of Teesdale District Council’s planning committee, said: “The opportunities the development will bring to the area will be beneficial for people throughout Teesdale.”

The Elliots hope work will begin in the first week of January and the project will be completed by autumn 2009.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (11 December, ’08)