DARLINGTON's council leader has admitted he is "concerned" high street troubles are far from over, but vowed to make Darlington town centre an attractive place for shoppers and business.

Councillor Steven Harker, Darlington Borough Council's leader, said the authority did all they could last year to persuade Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser to remain in the town.

Although Binns agreed to remain for another 18 months, M&S announced they were pulling out of the town centre last summer.

Cllr Harker also maintained free parking was not the answer to solve the town centre woes, despite admitting he doesn't like having to pay to park .

Speaking to The Northern Echo, he said: "Town centre parking is used by people who come to work and stay there all day, or shoppers who come for a couple of hours.

"By having free parking, all commuters turn up, fill the spaces and all the people who come to shop have to park away from the centre, and that doesn't work.

"Yes it is a tax and I complain when I have to pay to park, but a lot of parking charges are about managing where people park and how they park.

"If we didn't have that revenue, we'd have to find another way and cut more services. No one likes paying tax, I don't like paying tax, but it provides services that we need and use."

Cllr Harker is expected to announce Labour will spend millions of pounds on improving the high street if they are recollected in May.

"Some of the things that have happened we have had absolutely no control over," he said.

"Although M&S were struggling, the announcement came out of the blue. We spoke to them and Binns to see if there was anything we could do to delay or stop the move, and with Binns they said they'll give it 18 months and explore how it works.

"It it secure for the long term? I don't know – I suspect House of Fraser don't know."

"If the national economy continues to stagnate or get worse, it possibly isn't the end of it.

"A lot of us do prefer online shopping, but we have to think of the consequences on the high street, and that hasn't settled yet."

Cllr Harker also said the council would continue to work with residents in villages such as Middleton St George and Hurworth to address planning concerns.

"It is a very difficult and contentious issue. Darlington doesn't really have any brownfield sites remaining, and the ones left are more appropriate for business use. There are some sites, and some empty houses, but they don't really scratch the surface for the amount of houses we need to build.

"We have to come to compromise and residents have to come to compromise and it is trying to do it in a sympathetic way and make sure the infrastructure is in place, proper transport assessments are done."

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