A DARLINGTON councillor says the local authority must challenge “nonsense” rumours on social media about the town’s shopping offer.

Nick Wallis criticised what he called “professional eels” on Facebook who were damaging efforts to promote the town to shoppers and visitors.

Cllr Wallis, who holds the leisure and local environment portfolio on Darlington Council, was commenting on a new town centre ‘footfall strategy’, which was approved at a meeting of cabinet members.

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It aims to boost the reputation of Darlington as a market town by redeveloping the covered market and improving the outdoor market and improve the attractiveness of the town centre by working to reduce vacant properties and attract new businesses.

Short-term parking and the overall parking policy for the town centre will be reviewed and general signage improved.

A report produced for councillors said “significant investments” had already been made by the private sector, while the council had played a “key part” in bringing more office workers in and improving car parking and the riverside environment.

Nonetheless there has been much debate about the health of the town centre in recent times with a handful of major retailers having left or moved to out-of-town retail parks.

Conservative group leader Councillor Heather Scott said there had been rumours on Facebook over the future of the town’s Binns store.

Cllr Wallis responded: “We must challenge some of this nonsense on Facebook. "There are professional eels determined to drive down the positives.”

Cllr Wallis said the authority was facing financial challenges and he referred to the demise of the Darlington Business Improvement District (BID), a five-year project funded by a levy on retailers which brought in about £300,000 annually.

On the new strategy, he said: “It is a work in progress, but I think this is a strong start.

“I am encouraged by the positive response we have had from traders.”

Council leader Bill Dixon admitted he was courting controversy by suggesting changes to parking outside the town’s covered market.

Cllr Dixon said that it was “time we thought about how the taxi ranks were used” and said a 20 minute waiting time could be introduced.

Cabinet members broadly welcomed the strategy.

Cllr Scott said: “Coming up to Christmas we have to put out a positive message to try and encourage more people to shop here.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Anne-Marie Curry said: “I welcome the fact we are looking to boost the reputation of Darlington as a market town.”

Pooh corner 
YOUR readers may have been puzzled to read today’s headline that at Cabinet I described people who continually knock Darlington town centre on social media as “professional eels”. (Echo, Nov 9)
In fact I said that they are “professional Eeyores.”
I think I probably need elocution lessons!
Cllr. Nick Wallis, Haughton & Springfield Ward