TWO multi-million pound building projects that will help to transform a run-down part of a North-East town have each taken an important step forward.

Work to construct the concrete foundations of the Feethams Leisure cinema, hotel and restaurant development in Darlington town centre is underway after months of work to clear the former bus station site.

An enormous pile driver will pound up to 500 concrete slabs into the ground in the coming weeks, before work on the steel frame making up the skeleton of the £30m development, gets underway in February.

Work to build the multi-storey car park – a £7.5m Darlington Borough Council-funded project – in Beaumont Street, also started yesterday (Monday, January 19) with the existing car park closed to motorists.

It is hoped that the two projects will give the town an economic boost and provide hundreds of jobs for local people.

Work on the cinema development began in September and it is expected to open by March next year.

The concrete piling and steelwork had been expected to take shape in November but Simon Hawkins, development director for developer Terrace Hill, said: “The remediation contract took longer than we had anticipated.

“Unfortunately we never know what’s in the ground until we get underneath it. We found a bit more than we expected to and that had to be cleared out properly before we could get underway.

“The concrete piling is now going in and that is what will hold the whole structure up. We are using a massive piling rig to drive the concrete posts into the ground and everything will be built around that.

“The piling works will go on for another couple of weeks.”

The 650-space multi-storey car park, which is being built by the council in response to the loss of parking spaces at the Feethams Leisure site, is expected to be open in time for Christmas.

While the Beaumont Street car par is closed, the car park to the rear of the town hall has reopened now that construction work on the new Department for Education building is complete.

Council leader Bill Dixon said: “It’s great news that work has started on the multi-storey. It is pay on exit and that is something traders have been asking for.”

The council has released figures showing that sales tickets in its car parks were up by five per cent in December, compared to the year before.

The authority said it had also recorded an increase in footfall of 1.5 per cent between the same periods.