Plans to build a Tesco supermarket in Darlington town centre are on the verge of being rejected after overwhelming public opposition.

The leader of Darlington Borough Council yesterday said that if widespread objection to Tesco's plans to build a development in the town did not change, the authority would oppose the scheme.

The national chain has drawn up plans to build a superstore, 130 apartments, 750 car parking spaces, a petrol station, and a new town hall for Darlington Borough Council. If approved, the project could be completed by 2010/11.

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But The Northern Echo can reveal that almost 75 per cent of people who have given their views on the scheme are opposed to it.

Councillor John Williams said: "Based on the responses we have had so far, if we were making a final decision today, then it is clear the council would not agree to Tesco's proposals.

"The responses at this stage show a clear majority of people against Tesco's plans. We are fully committed to getting the views of as many people as possible, and those opinions will count when councillors make a decision."

After Tesco's plans were revealed last month, the council launched an unprecedented public consultation to gauge opinion across the borough.

But now, halfway through the six-week process, almost three-quarters of people who have given their views are against the plans.

The consultation has included more than 20 roadshow events across the borough, with almost 30 still to come, and views have also been sent by e-mail and post.

So far, more than 1,000 opinions have been submitted, and show 74 per cent of people are opposed to the scheme, with 21 per cent in favour, and five per cent undecided.

More than 86 per cent of e-mails were also against the plans, with 107 in opposition, and only 17 in support.

A Say No To Tesco group has been set up in the town, which claims the development could destroy Darlington's traditional character and market heritage.

Market trader Robin Blair, from the group, said he believed the council's findings were an accurate reflection of the level of opposition.

He said: "We have all been overwhelmed at the response from people saying no, it has been phenomenal.

"Very, very few people want this Tesco, they feel that way very passionately, and are showing that in no uncertain terms."

Councillor Tony Richmond, leader of Darlington's Tory group, said it seemed the Labour-led council were preparing for a climb-down in the face of opposition - a claim denied by Coun Williams, who said the council is neutral.

Coun Richmond added: "It is absolutely essential that the public continue to take part in the consultation into this development until the end of the consultation period."

A report, based on the consultation, will be given to all Darlington Borough councillors.

Members will then vote at a full council meeting in November on whether Tesco should be allowed to formally submit their plans.

The plans would see the town hall, opened by Princess Anne in 1970, and the bus station flattened and replaced.

The land would be leased from the council to Tesco in exchange for a new town hall, which would be built and paid for by the supermarket company.

The replacement town hall would be built across the southern end of Feethams, between Houndgate and Beaumont Street.

The supermarket's main entrance would be from Darlington's market square, and would have rooftop parking to compensate for the loss of the town hall and Beaumont Street car parks.

The 130 apartments would be built on three sides of the supermarket, with views over St Cuthbert's churchyard, the River Skerne, the ring road and Feethams.