COUNCIL chiefs have pledged that not a single penny of the £3m pledged in principle for a stalling department store development will be spent until contracts are signed.

Hopes appear to be fading that a Debenhams store will open in Darlington, after the company confirmed earlier this week that it had no immediate plans to move into the town.

The company has had a difficult trading year and this week announced a 2.7 per cent drop in pre-tax profits.

Darlington Borough Council is keen for the development to press ahead and Debenhams has long been linked with a move into The Northern Echo’s offices, in Priestgate, although such a move now looks further than ever from becoming reality.

In July, the council agreed to make a £3m loan available to Moorfield Developments, which owns the Cornmill shopping centre and has held negotiations with Debenhams over plans for The Northern Echo building.

Paul Wildsmith, the council’s director of resources, has reaffirmed his pledge that no money will change hands until a deal is agreed, but added that the deal appeared to be ‘fading into oblivion’.

He said: “We made an offer to Moorfield, to help attract Debenhams, and it is still on the table, but has not been progressed.

“It does not look like it is going to happen in the short-term.”

Mr Wildsmith has sought to reassure Darlington taxpayers that the £3m will not be made available unless progress is made on the development.

He added: “We have not spent a penny and we do not intend to – it is up to Moorfield and Debenhams to make progress, but it does not look likely.”

Council leader Bill Dixon said he remains optimistic that a Debenhams store will one day open in the town.

He said: “If [Debenhams] do not come, it will be a disappointment and we will do what we can to bring it here, because it would strengthen the town centre enormously.

“I am still optimistic that they will come to Darlington one day, because there have been discussions for some time.

“They have had a tough year, but if things will get better, then hopefully Darlington will be top of their list.”

No one from Moorfield was available for comment.