COUNCIL leaders have dismissed claims that traditional traders are being “eased out” from an indoor market to make way for a new-look building.

Darlington Borough Council’s deputy leader Councillor Charles Johnson said while it was clear some tenants of the Victorian Indoor Market had left, he was confident the best people were in place to attract new stallholders.

In 2017, the council entered into a partnership agreement with Market Asset Management Ltd (MAM) for the management, and refurbishment of the historic premises.

As part of a drive to improve the building and increase visitors to the town centre, the authority is examining building a winter garden on the east-facing side of the market hall and the inclusion of a more extensive food and beverage offer in the market vaults area.

An additional £1.5m investment will be needed for the work, which would be funded through a growth fund from the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Councillor Matthew Snedker, the leader of the authority’s Green Party group, said while a report to the authority’s leading members about its investments stated the council’s efforts to improve the building were being highlighted to tenants, speculation was mounting over the future of the building.

He said: “I have been approached by several people very worried indeed about the lack of tenants in the indoor market. In fact, it seems not a month goes by without another void in the indoor market. And there is concern that, whether founded or not, tenants are being eased out the door.”

Cllr Snedker asked for reassurances about the way tenants were being treated and “how we can keep them in that building so it is of use to the public”.

Cllr Johnson replied that he had not heard of any complaints, but was aware that tenants had been leaving the indoor market.

He said: “I don’t think it is a conspiracy to get them out. I am sure MAM, who are professionals, know how to attract stallholders.

“I think the market does need refreshing, so let them get on with it. The council decided some time ago that it did not have the appropriate people to manage the market and decided to bring in the professionals.”