TWO major national stores will open at a controversial out-of-town shopping complex next week.

Marks & Spencer will launch its Simply Food store at the Bishop Auckland Shopping Park, in St Helen Auckland, near Bishop Auckland, on Wednesday, January 16.

Next will follow by opening its store 24 hours later – meaning the first phase of the development will be complete.

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Phase two, which will see four more units built, was approved by Durham County Council’s planning committee in November.

The opening of Simply Food will coincide with the closure of Marks & Spencer on Newgate Street, in Bishop Auckland, on Tuesday, January 15.

All the staff will be transferred to the new store to work alongside 20 new workers.

The shopping park has divided opinion throughout the town with campaigners against the project fearing it will kill off the high street.

Bishop Auckland resident Christine Atkinson handed over a 6,500 signature petition to Marks and Spencer bosses in an effort to keep the Newgate Street store open.

She said: “I would just like to thank everyone who helped, in particular Dr Bob McManners and Ann Pearce, and also those who signed the petition.

“It is disappointing that it didn’t work but I did as much as I could.”

Brantano, Pets At Home and Boots have all recently opened as part of phase one.