CAMPAIGNERS hoping for a better Darlington met with council officers to discuss ideas to improve and revitalise the town centre recently.

Leaders of the I’m Backing Darlington campaign said their meeting with the officers had been productive as they expressed hope for the town’s future.

The campaign was launched earlier this year in response to the closure of a number of town centre businesses.

At the meeting, Anne Elliott, Tim Catterall and Graham Robb raised a number of issues with senior council officials and said that they “chose not to look back at past policy decisions” but tried to look at new policy ideas for the future.

Initiatives brought forward by the trio echoed suggestions made by residents and included universal two-hour free parking, the appointment of a town centre regeneration company, introducing more residential properties in the town centre, creating an “attractive corridor” between the train station and centre and tackling anti-social behaviour.

A statement from the campaigners said that they “did not get traction” on their parking idea so instead suggested a pilot scheme that would offer 30 minutes free to encourage ‘pop-in’ visitors to the centre.

It said: “It is not what everybody would want but the officers appeared to take the less costly version of enhanced free parking more seriously.

“They have already offered free parking at selected car parks on the town centre fringe and we felt that taking the experiment just a little bit further is something that the council should implement.”

They also suggested allowing parking on the market square when it is not in use but said the officers posed a range of practical issues in response.

The campaigners believe that the involvement of a regeneration company - which would have a formal role in planning processes and would include representatives from the council, landlords, traders and the wider community – could also help to improve the town centre.

They also suggested that the council should adopt a “more muscular approach” to compulsory purchase orders and said further out of town retail developments would be “prejudicial to the well-being of the town centre”.

The spokesman for I’m Backing Darlington said the officers were fully aware of the strength of feeling about the centre, adding: “In terms of big strategic thinking, they are open to new ideas and on the smaller, practical issues there remains the possibility of further change, albeit not as far as we would all want.

“The next few months are critical – speedy but effective decision making is needed.

“We have made our points and we hope and expect some of what we have talked about will be actioned, leading to verifiable change for the better.”

Ian Williams, Darlington Borough Council’s Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services, said: “Town centres are changing, and the success of our town centre is a top priority for everyone with Darlington at heart.

“Success of the town centre is dependent on many factors, including partnership with businesses, property owners and contributions from residents.

“We had a constructive meeting with the group, where we talked about a host of ideas, and about the number of things already in place to improve the town centre, such as additional street cleaning, parking offers, an enhanced events programme and the #LoveDarlo campaign to promote the best of what our town centre has to offer.

“We will be refreshing our town centre masterplan, which will seek the views of as many people as possible on how they view the future of the town centre and what needs to be in place.”