DARLINGTON'S Victorian indoor market could form the centrepiece of the town's plans to keep its town centre vibrant in the face of declining high street retail sales and shop closures.

The borough council's Cabinet will meet on January 8 to discuss plans to keep the town centre an attractive place to visit despite the continued slump in high street fortunes and rising number of empty shops.

Early plans include targeting investment into key parts of the town including the indoor market, Skinnergate, Northgate and Crown Street, making some areas less reliant on retail and instead looking at leisure and housing uses for empty properties.

The council is partnering up with the owners of the Indoor Market, Market Asset Management, to improve the 'underperforming' building and create a unique place to house quality independent businesses and food outlets.

If more funds are needed to boost the indoor market the council is considering a bid to the Government's Future High Street Fund to help it become a regional attraction for visitors.

The Strategic Sites Development Programme for Darlington town centre will examine how the changing needs of the High Street can be accommodated and helped to succeed in the coming months and years.

Initial proposals see a mix of retail, leisure, business and residential uses in a more compact town centre.

The loss of Marks and Spencer on Northgate was a blow to the area and it is hoped mixed-use developments, including some homes, would be considered to bring the area back to life.

Crown Street is also a key target of the council with its decision to retain the historic library there and refurbish it later this year. Although the area is mostly in private ownership, officers from the council are working with property owners to look at what can be achieved.

Skinnergate is another target area, and it is hoped both residential and retail uses can increase footfall in the area, making it more vibrant.

The council is planning investment in heritage areas of the town including the historic yards and wynds linking High Row with Skinnergate.

Councillor Chris McEwan, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “The retail landscape has been changing across the country for several years but this year has seen some seismic shifts, particularly in the role of anchor department stores in town centre. Darlington hasn’t been immune to this but we still have a high proportion of national retailers and a strong independent sector,

“We’re taking a holistic approach to the future of the town centre and looking at how we can secure Government funding, as well as working alongside private investors, to future-proof our town centre.

“The town centre is vital not only to our economy but also to our sense of community and well-being as a town.”

If the report is agreed by cabinet members, a period of consultation will take place.