AMBITIOUS plans for a nationally-significant theatre for young children could take a big step forward this summer, a public meeting has heard.

Theatre Hullaballoo, a Darlington-based theatre company catering for young audiences, has joined forces with Darlington Borough Council to set out plans for the project.

A debate held to discuss the future of the arts in Darlington, held at The Forum Music Centre on Tuesday (May 27) heard that a bid for Arts Council funding for the project will be submitted in July.

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If that bid is successful, the theatre, which will be on a site next to the existing Darlington Civic Theatre, could be open by late 2016, the meeting heard.

Miranda Thain, Theatre Hullaballoo’s creative producer, told the meeting, which was attended by about 40 people, that she was optimistic the funding bid would be successful.

She said Darlington Arts Centre, which closed in 2012 as a result of council austerity measures, helped bring theatre to young audiences in the town.

“Hopefully, the Arts Council will recognise that there is a real need for this [theatre project]," she said.

“Darlington has shown, over a long period of time, its commitment to investing in the arts for its children.

“I am an optimist and I believe it will happen.”

Councillor Nick Wallis, cabinet member with responsibility for the arts, said the children’s theatre would be a flagship organisation, with national importance.

The debate was organised by Darlington for Culture (DfC), which campaigned against the closure of the arts centre, as part of the ongoing Darlington Arts Festival.

It was chaired by Peter Barron, editor of The Northern Echo.

Panellists included Cllr Wallis and Ms Thane, as well as DfC chairman John Dean and Allison McKay, director of Humantics, the community interest company which runs The Forum.

The council's cabinet agreed in December to set aside £600,000 from the eventual sale of the former arts centre building, which is in the process of being negotiated, for the children's theatre project.