AN ambitious plan to boost the economic prospects of a County Durham town will be discussed by councillors next week.

Members of Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be asked to give the green light to a masterplan for Bishop Auckland town centre, when they meet in Crook on Wednesday, May 15.

The document, which has been produced by the council following consultation with businesses, residents and other stakeholders, considers a number of factors including how key spaces are used, how people access and find their way around the town centre and how the development of visitor attractions will impact on its infrastructure.

By providing an understanding of how the town centre currently operates, the masterplan is able to identify a range of opportunities which would lead to improved economic performance.

Councillor Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The creation of new visitor attractions by the Auckland Project will inevitably lead to a significant increase in visitors to the town centre who will spend more in shops, bars, cafes and other venues.

“In turn, this will hopefully mean new businesses being attracted to the town, bringing an increased number of job opportunities for local residents.

“It is important that we make the most of this economic boom for the town and that is why we have been working to identify ways in which we can build on the opportunity, for example, by ensuring the necessary infrastructure and facilities are in place for these extra visitors.”

The plan identifies three key areas in the town centre and outlines specific opportunities for improvement in them.

These include around Market Place, Fore Bondgate, North Bondgate and the bus station; Newgate Street (North) and Kingsway and Newgate Street (South) and the train station.

Cllr Marshall added: “Along with our partners, we have already done much to capitalise on the opportunities presented by current and emerging developments in Bishop Auckland. However, the masterplan outlines what more can be achieved.”

In 2017, the council helped set up the Brighter Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership, which sees a range of organisations, including the authority itself as well as the Auckland Project, Eleven Arches, Durham University and Historic England, working together to submit joint funding bids for projects that will contribute to the social, economic and physical regeneration of the town.

And in April 2018, Historic England awarded Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) status to the town, providing the council and its partners with the opportunity to achieve economic growth by using the historic environment as a catalyst.

In its first year, the HAZ has already made significant progress, with work already taking place to gain more understanding of key buildings in the town centre. A study looking at how buildings can be brought back into use has also been commissioned and a programme of repairs has been carried out on the West Mural Tower, meaning it can be taken off the national Heritage at Risk register.

This work is supported by the council’s Towns and Villages programme, which also seeks to support the re-use of town centre premises in the face of significant pressures on the traditional high street.