DISCOUNT chains Lidl and Home Bargains look to be heading to Barnard Castle after plans for a new retail park on the outskirts of the town were approved.

Durham County Council has approved draft plans to turn a former auction room into a retail park for the two stores and create about 60 new jobs in the process.

But the proposals proved divisive among both councillors and the public, with some welcoming the prospect of greater choice while others worried about potential impacts on other businesses in the town centre.

“I find this an impossible decision to make, it leaves us between a rock and a hard place,” said Councillor John Clare, chairman of the council’s area planning committee (south and west).

“If we allow it to go ahead, there has to be a fear that it will damage the town centre and every member of the committee would be horrified to drive through a struggling Barnard Castle and say ‘I did that’. But that said, the consultation shows this is what a significant number of residents want, that Lidl would be cheaper and do we have the right to say to the people of Barnard Castle ‘you will pay more for your shopping’?”

Cllr Clare was speaking at Thursday’s meeting to rule on the application, which was eventually approved by a margin of eight votes in favour and four against.

This granted outline approval for the scheme, which is set to replace the former Addison Auctioneers, in Roman Road. A second detailed application will be needed before construction can begin.

Supermarket Morrisons, which already has a store in the centre of Barnard Castle, was among 27 official objectors to the plans and lobbied members of the planning committee in the run up to decision day.

Chris Creighton, of planning consultancy Peacock and Smith, which represented the chain, said: “A threat to Morrisons is a threat to the wider town centre.”

But Chris Argent, of rival consultancy CBRE, representing Lidl, accused Morrisons of having a ‘near monopoly’ over Barnard Castle.

He added: “Look at Crook, which has got an Aldi and a Lidl, but Lidl doesn’t have a fresh meat or fish counter, so it is very much a complimentary offer to [what is already] in the town centre and the other independents.”

This view was opposed by independent Councillor John Shuttleworth, who said he didn’t want to risk seeing Barnard Castle’s high street ‘go the way of Crook and Consett, where independent retailers have disappeared’.