HUNDREDS of town centre jobs could be created in plans to transform a car park into a business hub, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Darlington Borough Council is pushing ahead with a blueprint to deliver a 500-person office block next to the £30m Feethams development.

Bosses say the scheme will benefit growing small and medium-sized firms, based in and out of the town, as well as operators across the professional services, digital and creative sectors.

Loading article content

The proposals come after the authority oversaw the construction of a nearby office block to retain hundreds of Department for Education workers in the town.

They would also mark another significant investment in Darlington’s Feethams area, which has seen a new cinema and restaurant complex complemented by a riverside walkway and multi-storey car park.

Councillor Chris McEwan, portfolio holder for economy and regeneration, told the Echo that the council was taking the initiative in turning a derelict site into a worthwhile space.

Although admitting it is taking “some risk” on the venture, he confirmed it will seek to secure lease agreements before the development starts and provide opportunity for some council use to mitigate any issues.

He said: “We need more Grade-A office accommodation and I’m a real advocate of having town centre-based jobs, because they help create a thriving town centre.

“It would be a bit like the Department for Education building; we would get the spin-off benefits that you get with more footfall in the town centre.

“This is about attracting new businesses but also recognising some of the big businesses around the town centre who want to remain there.

“This is a journey that we have been on for some time.

“A number of people had a vision and we are now close to seeing that come to fruition.”

Cllr McEwan added the authority is now carrying out site investigation and feasibility studies, with a report expected to be provided to the council’s Cabinet later this year aimed at setting out progress on design and planning work.

According to the blueprint, the office space would cover a number of storeys and be flexible and open plan, so areas could be divided to suit the needs of companies, depending on their differing sizes.

John Anderson, the authority’s assistant director for economic initiatives, added: “We know there is a high demand for high-quality office space and we think we are well placed in Darlington because of the road and rail connections.

“If there is a small business that wants a small office, the building can be designed to accommodate that.

“Similarly, if someone wants to come in and take the top floor, they can do that as well.”

The council’s Department for Education scheme came after officials in the Government organisation deemed a former home in Darlington’s Mowden Hall unfit for purpose back in 2012.

At the time of the announcement, bosses said they would seek alternative accommodation in the North- East, with the Echo leading a campaign to retain the posts in Darlington.