PLANS to transform a Victorian covered market to its former glory and extend opening hours to help boost town centre trade have been broadly welcomed by residents.

Reaction is being sought to a proposed investment of up to £3.5m in Darlington’s covered market will see new toilets, infrastructure, improvements to stall design and layout and the creation of new retail space to create a specialist ‘market republic’.

Option one would involve a basic revamp, improvements in infrastructure, toilets and design, along with small offices on the mezzanine level above, and option two involves all of the above, but includes an eye-catching 'temperate garden’.

This large glass extension to the rear of the market hall would incorporate family-friendly places to eat and drink into the evening.

Market Asset Management, which operates the indoor venue on behalf of owners Darlington Borough Council, has launched a survey to see whether to invest £2m in basic improvements or the £3.5m to make the market a destination in itself.

Reaction online has been broadly positive, with most residents approving the garden option – and they called on the council to introduce more green areas into the town centre.

Some compared the temperate garden to Cornwall's Eden Project and others said they believed the more expensive revamp would help draw customers back to Darlington to shop for leisure.

One said: "It needs to be a leisure space with premium artisan traders and well-managed street theatre. It offers an all-weather experience. When customers come back the retailers will return."

Another added: "Love the use of plants - it elevates the market to an attraction worth a visit even if you weren’t thinking of doing shopping."

However critics said the council should be concentrating on filling the empty shops elsewhere in the town, such as in the Cornmill and Queen Street centres.

Others expressed concerns about the market losing its Victorian heritage by modernising it, although architects have taken care to preserve the original features.

Plans, which have been designed by Darlington-born architect Jonathan Thorns, include opening up the inside to give it a light and airy feel and restoring the glass around the outside after it was wood-panelled in the 1970s.

MAM would provide later opening times and also provide a space to sell items which were not currently on offer in the market, but which customers may want.