A £14M shopping complex which critics fear will destroy a nearby town centre has officially opened creating more than 120 jobs.

The St Helen Auckland shopping park was vehemently opposed by traders and residents of nearby Bishop Auckland as well as Durham County Council’s planning officer who said it would drag businesses from the beleaguered town centre.

But supporters of the park say it is the latest stage of St Helen Auckland’s transformation from derelict factory land to bustling business and shopping hub.

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Six of the eight units, which have been built on the site of a former DIY store that became a magnet for arsonists and anti-social behaviour, are now trading with Poundland expected to arrive in March.

Brantano, Pets At Home, Boots and Costa all opened before Christmas but the park owners Metric Properties decided to wait until Marks And Spencer and Next moved in before holding the official opening ceremony.

Lord Derek Foster, a former MP for Bishop Auckland, opened the site today (Friday, January 25) said: “It is great to see such premier league retailers investing here, bringing jobs and adding to the choices available to local shoppers.”

West Auckland county councilors Rob Yorke and Andy turner welcomed the opening.

Councillor Yorke said: “If we offer choice people will stay and we can once again create a vibrant shopping base, we must build on this over the next couple of years and exploit the true potential of what could come from Auckland Castle and the Weardale Railway.”

Plans to expand the Park from the existing 49,000 square feet to 76,000 square feet have been approved and an application has been submitted for a multi-screen cinema complex with shops and restaurants on nearby waste land.