BUSINESS leaders have given their backing to plans for a £30m cinema and hotel development in a North-East town centre.

Darlington Borough Council and developer Terrace Hill announced plans for the entertainment hub – including a nine-screen cinema, 80-bedroom hotel, bars and restaurants – on Wednesday (November 14).

With planning applications due to be submitted in the New Year, it is hoped the development, which will be built around a central plaza on a former bus depot site next to Darlington town hall, could be finished by December 2014.

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Up to 500 jobs could be created, with town centre businesses hoping for a boost in their own trade.

Alex Swan, manager of Distinct Darlington, the company charged with improving the business outlook in the town centre, welcomed the project.

She said: “I think it is really positive, it is definitely something that Darlington needs and I can see it bringing a lot of people into the town centre.

“From the point of view of the existing retailers, it is definitely going to benefit them.”

Odeon, which runs Darlington’s only cinema, a three-screen outlet in Northgate, is yet to respond to the plans.

While James Watson, from Darlington Film Club, which runs weekly screenings in community venue The Forum, gave the project his backing.

Previous projects by Terrace Hill, which has an office in Stockton, include the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bishop Auckland and the campus at Stockton Riverside College.

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Council’s opposing Conservative group, also backed the development.

She said: “It is fantastic news and I am pleased that, at last, everything is signed and sealed.

“A lot of people in Darlington go to Teesside Park to the cinema and we need more amenities like this to bring people to the town centre.”

Greengrocer Robin Blair, of Darlington Retail Market Stalls Association, said: “I think it is going to be a boost to that end of the town centre, which is lacking footfall, and I think this could be just the start of the development of that area – there is a lot of potential there.

“It is close enough to the heart of the town centre for the market and other shops to get a boost.”