A “RIVERSIDE park” and new council headquarters are to replace an ageing shopping centre in a multi-million pound revamp of Stockton town centre.

The Castlegate Shopping Centre and Swallow Hotel, on Stockton High Street, will be demolished to make way for a green space with trees and art installations if council leaders agree the move next week. 

Artists' impressions show a stretch from the high street down to the Tees would be transformed with a new “land bridge” over Riverside Road with tunnel underneath for traffic. 

Meanwhile, the southern end of the vision will see a new council HQ built on the high street with a second centre erected in Billingham.

A total of £20m from the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) will pay for the removal of Castlegate tenants, as well as the demolition and clearance of the high street site.

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Stockton Council bosses are hoping a further £21m for the wider revamp is then hoped to come from a bid to the government’s “Future High Streets Fund” for the five acre park.

The aim is to finish the park project before March 2024 – with the new offices finished before April 2025. 

The park move aims to shrink the size of Stockton’s retail offering given the struggles and loss of big names like Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and New Look in the past two years. 

Tenants of the Castlegate are to be moved over to nearby Wellington Square – which was snapped up by the council last year for £7m. 

A consultation on what to do with the Castlegate and former Swallow Hotel was launched last year after the authority paid £13.8m for the two landmarks. 

Cllr Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for regeneration and housing, said there had been strong public support for getting rid of the sites to make the most of the River Tees. 

He added: “We all enjoy reminiscing about the golden era when every town had a big department store but we can’t turn back the clock. 

“We need to take the bull by the horns and get on with reshaping Stockton for the modern age.

“If we do nothing we’ll just see a growing number of empty shops.”

Demolition and a “mixed-use” area with shops, offices and open areas were a key part of past visions for the Castlegate site. 

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But this master plan marks a shift towards a more open air concept. 

It is the latest in a series of overhauls seen in Stockton High Street in recent years. 

Efforts to finish the troubled Globe Theatre project are continuing with the Grade II site forecast to open in November. 

And performance figures on the council-owned Hampton by Hilton Hotel are expected in the coming weeks. 

Cllr Cooke said the riverside park plans would allow the town to “shrink its oversupply” of retail space and open the town back up the river. 

He added: “Stockton has been accused of turning its back on the river over the years.

“It’s the logical thing to do.”

Concerns about the lack of shelter in Wellington Square and worries over a lack of parking were aired during the consultation. 

Studies will now be carried out to see whether a roof could go uncovered parts of Wellington Square. 

Meanwhile, a new library, offices and customer services centre are to be part of the new high street headquarters – with a portion of the site expected to be set aside for commercial property. 

Council bosses say the new Billingham and Stockton offices would come to £32m – with borrowing one option to fund the project. 

Alternatively, a private developer could be used to fund and build the Stockton office with the council taking a long-term lease on the building. 

It is forecast the move would save £120,000 a year in running costs at the council’s existing 10 offices. 

Council leader Bob Cook said: “We have around 1,000 fewer people working for the council than we did ten years ago so we don’t need as much space as we did.

“When you look at the costs associated with having so many buildings, it’s clear we need to rationalise our estate. 

“Any large organisation in our position would do the same.”

Councillors have reviewed the existing ten offices dotted across the borough in the past year – finding a number were under-occupied with some buildings “causing headaches” among staff.

Maintenance costs are coming to £1.2m a year – and this sparked the people select committee to recommend a move to “one single main building”. 

Many authority staff are already based in Billingham and council bosses say they are working with town centre owners, St Modwen, on their own plans. 

Cllr Cook said the office idea was being pursued regardless of the riverside park project.

“The bottom line is it’s cheaper and greener,” he added. 

Opposition councillors have been critical of the amount of public money going into Stockton when compared to the borough’s other towns. 

Members of Thornaby Independent Association (TIA) have questioned the sums at Stockton Town Hall more than once in recent months. 

When it came to the riverside park vision, Thornaby Mayor Cllr Steve Walmsley believed the plan had come 20 years too late.

He added: “When do Thornaby ratepayers get a bit of money? We are borrowing all this money and most of it is being ploughed into one centre.

“I have nothing against theatres or hotels, but I don’t think councils should be in the theatre or hotel business and putting money into private developers’ pockets. 

“They are going for this new thing – and hopefully it comes off – but it’s a lot of money ratepayers will have to pay back.”

Money has been earmarked for Thornaby from the government’s new “town’s fund” – with up to £25m possible. 

Cllr Walmsley believed this would help – but wanted to see the council spend money in other town centres as well. 

Consultations on the future of Billingham, Yarm, Norton, Thornaby and Ingleby Barwick will close on Friday.