PLANS to boost tourism in a North-East town has received early cross-party support – but some campaigners believe the initiative is missing a golden opportunity to protect one of its most distinctive assets.

Darlington Borough Council is looking to cash in on the town’s railway heritage in the run up to the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025.

The local authority is aiming to boost spending by visitors in Darlington by £26m a year and utilise the town’s title as birthplace of the railways.

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The ‘Experience Darlington’ strategy, which will cover a period over the next nine years, aims to enhance the town’s attraction to visitors and create a lasting legacy.

Councillor Nick Wallis, the council’s leisure and local environment portfolio holder, told the local authority’s cabinet meeting this afternoon that the initiative was a good way to help celebrate the Stockton and Darlington Railway and attract tourists and shoppers to the town.

He said: “It breaks down the opportunity to get people to come to Darlington and enjoy Darlington – the railway town, the theatre town.

“Darlington has a complex and rich heritage, we can’t shoehorn it into being just a railway town or just a theatre town.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Heather Scott gave her full support to the project but lamented the loss of the town’s business improvement district (BID) – Distinct Darlington.

She said: “It’s a very ambitious and forward-thinking plan but it is important how we advertise it. Since we lost the BID, we don’t have the activities in the market place and there’s still concern about those events being missed.”

As well as the idea of promoting Darlington’s reputation as a railway town, another theme is establishing Darlington’s regional and national reputation for arts and culture, highlighting the fully restored 1,000 seat Edwardian Hippodrome Theatre and Theatre Hullabaloo as a centre of excellence for children’s theatre.

But campaigners fighting to save Crown Street library believe the investment could be used to protect that historic building for future generations.

Yvonne Richardson, who has fought to save the library, said: “Your statement about promoting the town’s heritage contradicts what you are doing with the library. I think it is a useful time for you to revisit your decision to close the Crown Street library.”

However, Cllr Wallis said whatever the future use of the building is, it will always be part of the town’s heritage and will always be cherished and celebrated as part of the town heritage and that will never change.”

The plan will now go to full council later this year.