A ROUND of applause ushered in a new era for a town’s central library, more than two years after a cost-cutting plan to close it was launched.

Campaigners, who fought Darlington Borough Council at the High Court over its proposal to move the library from Crown Street to the Dolphin Centre, clapped and said they were “absolutely delighted” as the authority’s cabinet endorsed a U-turn over the scheme.

The meeting heard modernising and repairing the Crown Street building would cost £220,000 a year, but as the town centre faced unprecedented pressures, it had become apparent retaining the service in the Victorian premises was more important.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Stephen Harker told members the key to the council’s change of heart had been a fear of leaving the expansive building empty. He said: “Having a library in the town centre will help with footfall. What I was more concerned about was the negativity that we would produce by having an empty building if we moved out of Crown Street and found, what I suspect would happen, that we couldn’t find another occupier.”

The council’s leisure boss, Councillor Nick Wallis said while the plan to relocate the library in 2016 had been driven by “the need to save every penny possible” in the face of austerity, it had since been overtaken by events unfolding in the retail sector.

Cllr Wallis said over the summer Darlington had become “a poster child” for town centres affected by online retail growth. He said: “There is a clear unmistakable trend of revolutionary change that’s sweeping town centres across the UK. Consequently, this would be precisely the wrong time to proceed with the plan to relocate the library to the Dolphin Centre when this might well leave a prominent and historic building at the heart of the town vacant for who knows how long.”

Councillor Cyndi Hughes added the decision highlighted a chance to make the library more relevant to residents, particularly young people while opposition members welcomed the U-turn and called for the council to consider creating heritage attractions within a new-look library.

Conservative group leader Councillor Heather Scott said the decision represented an opportunity for the authority to consider ways of attracting more people into the town centre. She added: “I don’t think today is the time to comment on the amount of money that has already been spent [on the relocation plan], and one could say wasted, because that goes on top of the £220,000 a year we have not achieved in savings.”

After the meeting, library campaigner Paul Howell said: “It’s been a long hard road to get to this stage and we’re delighted to finally see the day come.

“A lot of campaigners have a huge amount of knowledge about what opportunities exist for the library and I hope they listen to everybody and properly engage and move forward to a library that is fit for the future.”