A VACANT former department store which until just over a year ago was a town’s biggest high street business could reopen.

National retail chain Beales closed its doors in Bishop Auckland in January, 2017, saying it had proved impossible to trade profitably.

But now the boss of the 29-strong department store firm has confirmed it has been in “productive talks” with Durham County Council (DCC) over plans for a possible reopening.

The news was welcomed by Cllr Sam Zair who understands the move could bring 40 full-time jobs to the town, which is the focus of major regeneration projects.

He said: “This can only be a good thing for the town, and in that particular location because it’s such an important asset for Bishop Auckland as far as a retail site goes.

“I sincerely hope we as a council will offer them as much help as we possibly can.

“It can only be a massive plus bearing in mind the number of empty retail units there are in the town centre as a whole.

“Hopefully a deal can be struck all round to help Beales.

“If a deal is struck they were looking at 40 full-time jobs which is an absolutely huge boost for the town and the town folk.

“For them to come back again just shows the potential Bishop Auckland can offer.”

The shop, which sold a mix of clothing, home wares, toys and also had a restaurant, had seen a series of changes in the decade leading up to its closure.

The Co-operative Society sold it to Anglia Regional Cooperative Society in 2006 which re-launched it as Westgate, then in 2011 it was taken over by Beales.

Clive Auld, chairman of events for Bishop Auckland Town Team, a voluntary group of traders, residents and councillors which works on initiatives to improve the town centre, believes if plans come to fruition it could pave the way for other businesses to follow suit.

He said: “The job creation would be fantastic for the town and it’s a massive step in the right direction.”

Peter Coe, development manager at DCC, said the authority had been in talks with the store owners around the support it could offer, which would continue in the coming months. Mr Coe added: “There is significant investment proposed for Bishop Auckland by both ourselves and other partners as part of plans to regenerate the town centre, and we welcome the news that Beales is looking to reopen.”

Tony Brown, CEO of Beales, confirmed talks had been ongoing with DCC and the property owners over the potential reopening, which the firm has had similar success in doing elsewhere.

He added: “We are hopeful we can come to the right commercial arrangement with both parties. We have just successfully reopened McEwens department store in Perth after it fell into administration and had been closed for circa two years.”