A POTENTIAL move by a council to intervene over the future of a historic property listed as nationally important that was devastated in a fire has been welcomed.

Darlington Borough Council Opposition councillors said buying the three-storey mid-18th century premises at 12 Skinnergate would enable the authority to continue efforts to reinvigorate the town centre.

Despite the potential cost and risk to the public purse, the authority has announced a decision over whether to add the grade II-listed property to the authority’s property portfolio would be held in private.

A council spokesman said the public would be excluded from a meeting of the council’s new Conservative-led Cabinet for the discussion as it would include information relating to business matters.

When asked to outline the reasons behind the potential acquisition of the property, the council’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott, said she was unable to discuss the matter, but added it was part of the authority’s drive to reinvigorate the town centre.

Cllr Scott has previously called for the council to back efforts to improve the attractiveness of the town centre.

The building is still known locally as Wildsmith’s, after the grocery shop that occupied it for more than 100 years, which was run by the family of the council’s managing director, Paul Wildsmith, until it was sold in 1979.

In May last year, firefighters said a 47-year-old man was rescued from the blaze by firefighters “in the nick of time” as the building was collapsing around them. A boiler fell through the ground floor ceiling, causing major structural damage.

It is understood due to the property being listed, the cost of the repairs could be prohibitive for many buyers and if the council did not intervene there would be potential for the fire-damaged building to remain an eyesore for some years.

The council’s former economy and regeneration boss, Councillor Chris McEwan said it was “right and proper that the council intervened” over an issue which had proved “complex to resolve”.

He said he welcomed the council’s strategy to help remodel and transform the town centre alongside efforts to continue attracting people to the area by staging events.