HIGHLIGHTING heritage and improving community facilities are among themajor plans to regenerate two County Durham towns.

Durham County Council has created masterplans for Bishop Auckland and Crook, that will be looked at bymembers of the cabinet committee later this month.

Plans for Bishop Auckland include examining ways to increase the number of visitors to Auckland Castle, which houses the famous Zurbaran paintings, and improving the town's bus and rail networks and hotel accommodation The masterplan also identifies national retailers as a priority and focuses on the possible expansion of The Newgate Centre as an important project.

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Councillor Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development at Durham County Council, said: "Bishop Auckland really is one of the jewels in our county's crown.

"There is so much to celebrate there, the palace, the Zurbaran paintings and the Deer House and of course the magnificent town hall building."

Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Councillor John Lethbridge, said: "There is a lot to celebrate in Bishop Auckland and this masterplan will help us take great steps inmaking the most of this historic town both for both residents and visitors."

Other plans for Bishop Auckland include new affordable homes, redevelopment of Kingsway and a customer access point.

Durham County Council has drawn up a regeneration masterplan for Crook, which aims to support retail trade, develop better access in the town centre and improve the town centre environment.

As part of the plan, community groups are to be invited to bid for a share of more than £500,000 to improve facilities.

From nextmonth, the county council will be seeking expressions of interest from community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations with proposals for community facilities in Crook.

The £568,000 in funding was previously earmarked for Elite Hall.

Other ideas include improving access to services, facilities and shops in the town centre, the creation of new and existing business space for small and medium-sized companies and a possible food retail site in Queen Street.

Coun Foster said: "Crook is a main service centre for the surrounding rural communities. There is a lot of potential for developing town centre retail opportunities, encouraging the building of new housing and supporting business growth.

"We need to ensure that the community are involved with decisions that affect them and that the resources used in Crook produce lasting benefits."

Crook Councillor Eddie Tomlinson, cabinet support member for regeneration and economic development, added: "I am particularly pleased that local people will be able to have a say in how vital funding for community services can be put to the most effective use."

The cabinet will discuss the masterplans next Wednesday.