Allerdale chiefs have been forced to look again at the new Workington stadium plans after an 11th-hour bid by opposition councillors to halt the project.

The detailed business case was debated by the borough council’s scrutiny panel yesterday morning after being called in by councillors Bill Finlay, Tony Annison and Mark Jenkinson earlier this week.

After an ill-tempered debate, the committee decided to refer the business case back to the council’s executive.

The shared stadium would provide much-needed new facilities for rugby club Workington Town and football team Workington Reds.

It was a cornerstone of the successful bid for the town to host three games for the Rugby League World Cup 2021.

But concerns have been raised about the spiralling cost and scale of the project and the potential risk facing council taxpayers.

Responding to questions from Tory leader Coun Annison and Independent leader Coun Finlay about whether the forecast attendances for the new 8,000-capacity stadium were realistic, council leader Alan Smith said the authority had faced similar questions before the new Workington Leisure Centre was built.

“We didn’t realise that we were going to get more than 600,000 visitors to that,” he said.

“If we had put those figures in we’d have been laughed at, but that’s reality.”

Coun Smith said evidence from other stadium builds around the country suggested attendances would rise as a result of a new ground being built.

Coun Finlay called them “guesstimates” and said the council couldn’t use “crystal balls” to come up with figures to justify building the stadium.

“We’ve got to work on hard facts,” he added.

Coun Annison said the executive appeared to be annoyed at having to face questions on its decisions.

He gave examples of football clubs like Bolton Wanderers, MK Dons and Darlington which he said had built new stadiums and then been saddled with the costs for years.

Councillor Frank Johnston asked for examples of the community benefits the stadium would deliver.

Labour leader Coun Smith said: “We’ve always said that this is an aspirational project; it isn’t for now, it’s for the future.

“What we’re looking at is nurturing that talent, to give the future generations facilities to help their skills as sportsmen and sportswomen.”

Coun Annison and Coun Finlay also asked a number of questions about the stadium plans which were only answered behind closed doors in a portion of the meeting which was deemed to contain “commercially sensitive” information.

A spokesman for the council said: “The members of the committee have asked that there is further clarity regarding the cost benefits analysis justifying investment and whether such investment is reliant on Allerdale hosting the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

“They also asked the executive to debate a wider scoping exercise regarding the comparator studies of the stadia in Warrington, Leigh and York including an appraisal of their viability.”

The plans were also called in by the cross-party overview and scrutiny committee in January, when councillors agreed the original decisions should stand.