PLANS have been unveiled to develop a £7m centre to help small and medium sized businesses grow at one of the Tees Valley’s flagship regeneration projects.

Darlington Borough Council’s leading members will consider proposals to build a 2,370sq m “incubation hub” featuring offices and workshop spaces at Central Park, Bank Top, using £4.2m of grants from the European Regional Development Fund and £2.4m from Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Central Park, a 30-hectare brownfield site, between Haughton Road, Yarm Road, Hundens Lane and the railway line, is one of the 12 sites which make up the Tees Valley Enterprise Zone.

There is an ambition to attract digital and biological industries to the area, and any eligible businesses will also benefit from business rate relief.

However, in a report to the council’s executive, officers said the proposed centre would also be suitable for other sectors which would be encouraged to locate within Central Park to help create “an active and buoyant commercial environment”.

The authority says the centre is needed to improve business underperformance in the North East and Darlington area, a lack of entrepreneurship, low business start-up rates, high business failure rates and no provision of smaller office unit accommodation and a lack of private sector speculative developments in times of recession.

The report states the centre would offer “a great opportunity for Darlington to address a key market failure

through creating the environment that will nurture and focus on entrepreneurship and business growth for new and existing small and medium enterprises”.

The council’s economy portfolio holder, Councillor Alan Marshall said while the scheme had been planned for some time, the council would take every opportunity to promote new businesses, particularly following the Coronavirus pandemic.

He said the Business Central hub which it opened for small businesses six years ago in Central Park was experiencing high levels of occupancy - at around 90 per cent - so there was a clear demand for the proposed centre.

Cllr Marshall said it was hoped the centre would provide entrepreneurial growth space and act as a catalyst for economic development opportunities in the area.