A MASTERPLAN to make Darlington town centre fit for the future by increasing the number of residents living there could receive a boost with a proposal convert a huge former bedding store into dozens of flats and two shops.

Stockton-based Purpose Build Group has applied to Darlington Borough Council to convert and extend the former Northgate Bedding Centre, to create a three-storey development beside the grade II listed United Reform Church.

The proposals have been unveiled just weeks after the council unveiled plans to redevelop the nearby former Darlington Congregational Bicentenary Memorial Church, in Union Street, as part of an ambition to align properties in the area to changing demands.

Northgate is one of four areas in the council’s town centre strategy for the next ten years, which will aim to give the area a facelift, celebrate heritage, support economic growth, improve health and wellbeing and making Darlington an attractive place to live, work and visit.

Councillor Alan Marshall, the authority’s economy portfolio holder, said the fringe around the town’s commercial heart would need to feature an increasing amount of homes and that the demand for large retail spaces had dropped significantly.

Papers submitted with the application state the demise of the former business was due to its size and its inability to compete with out of town retail parks, and that the neighbouring church had been “a significant consideration in the development of this proposal”.

The developer has claimed the height of the development would be “in keeping with the those along the street scene”.

In documents lodged with the authority, Purpose Build Group said the ground floor front of the 1960s premises would be split to create two smaller units of 120sq m.  The papers also show artist’s impressions of the planned three-storey building, which would feature 12 flats on the top floor, eight on the first floor and four on the ground floor.

Cllr Marshall said: “In principle, this latest application is entirely in line with our town centre strategy to increase footfall by attracting people to live there. Our town centre strategy is about a achieving a mix of residential and shopping uses to make the area thrive.”

Cllr Marshall said the proposals could support the increasing night-time economy in the area and highlighted how in January the town became the first in the region to be awarded Purple Flag status, a standard given to places that offer safe and enjoyable nights out.

A spokesman for the developer said: “This development provides an opportunity to bring back into use an existing large vacant building within a key location on one of the main routes into Darlington town centre.

“With the use of modern materials and modern design principles the proposals would result in a development that creates a clear distinction with the adjacent listed building yet amalgamate sympathetically within the street scene.

“The town centre fringe is identified in the Darlington Local Plan as a sustainable strategic location where development and regeneration activity will be concentrated over the next decade. This proposal conforms wholly with these aspirations.”