THE future of a town centre department store has been secured for up to 18 months, it has been confirmed.

Darlington Borough Council has secured a deal with bosses at House of Fraser and the owners of the Binns building on High Row to keep the store open.

The council have also confirmed they have offered a rate relief package to help secure the future of the store in Darlington.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said the decision proved Darlington was "open for business".

And Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen described the deal as "great news".

Councillor Stephen Harker, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said “Council officers have been in discussions with representatives of Sports Direct, the new owners of House of Fraser, regarding the future of the Darlington store.

“I am pleased to report that the council has been given confirmation from Sports Direct that the store will remain open for an initial period of 12-18 months.

"The council, together with the owner of the building, have contributed financially to make this happen, with the council offering a rate relief package.

“This is a huge positive for Darlington town centre, however we know that High Street retail is very challenging and we, the Darlington public, need to support all our retailers in order to maintain a vibrant retail offer in the town centre, so I ask you all to 'think local' when making your purchases.

“Finally, I would like to thank Sports Direct and its owner Mike Ashley for having the belief in Darlington to support the store, but I know it is not secured for ever yet.

“Sports Direct will be working hard to ensure the Darlington store has a viable future, so I expect there will be changes to come, and the council will continue to work with Sports Direct to secure a long term future for both the business and building.”

Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council's deputy leader, said it was "fantastic news" that the future of the town's House of Fraser has been secured.

The announcement comes after it was revealed bosses at House of Fraser are expected to announce a spate of store closures later this week, with new owner Mike Ashley blaming "greedy landlords" for potentially hundreds of job losses.

The Sports Direct tycoon, who recently bought the department store chain out of administration for £90m, has been in tense talks with landlords over rents in recent weeks.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Cllr McEwan said: “I am delighted that Darlington’s House of Fraser store has been saved.

“I have been consistently saying House of Fraser is a central part to Darlington’s High Street so the fact that it has been saved is absolutely fabulous news.

“Despite the great news, we can’t hide from the fact that a challenging environment for the town centre remains and we can’t afford to be complacent.

“We need to do work on the town centre to keep it vibrant. We need people to get behind the town centre and for local people to use it.

“The town centre is changing. It will be a place for people to live, work, shop, eat, drink, swim and do leisure. There is a growing recognition from people and the private sector is also adapting to the change."

Ms Chapman said: "The decision to maintain the House of Fraser store in Darlington is a step in the right direction for our high street, for customers and for the staff who have faced uncertainty.

"All the noises coming out of House of Fraser and those involved in the deal are positive.

"I will seek clarification from the new ownership to establish what their long-term vision is for the store.

"This will include job security for staff and continued cooperation with the local authority, through to investment plans which will be crucial to the longevity of the store in Darlington.

"The news sends a reminder to retailers and shoppers that Darlington remains open for business."

Mr Houchen said“It’s great news that an eleventh hour deal has been struck. I’m sure it will be of huge relief for the many staff employed there. It certainly is a welcome sign that the store has been identified as pivotal to the town’s centre.

“There is still so much to do to make our high streets an attractive place to shop and visit, so I urge local councils to adopt free parking initiatives to encourage more people to spend money in our town centres.

“I have also repeatedly called on the government to address the imbalance on crippling business rates which high street retailers face against online shopping giants. I will continue to push for this, and further urge our councils to adopt pro-business policies in order to support our town centres.”

A spokesman for House of Fraser said: "Some landlords are being very collaborative in order to give us a chance at turning the business around, giving House of Fraser a lifeline and saving hundreds of jobs.

"However, some greedy landlords would rather see the stores close than help save the jobs of hundreds of people.

"We will continue to try and convince these landlords but ultimately time is running out. Some closures will be announced."