A LOCAL authority has approved a proposal to build “an ugly, nondescript building” just yards from historic properties it plans to spend millions of pounds giving a facelift to ahead of the 200th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

A scheme to demolish the Northgate Bedding Centre and replace it with 24 flats and two shops has been passed by Darlington Borough Council just weeks after the authority submitted a bid to Government for £25m for regeneration funding.

The authority wants to transform the Northgate House area, in partnership with the private sector, to create mixed housing and commercial space and improved public green space.

It also aims to use the funding to buy key properties in Northgate, a designated conservation area with central ties to the world’s first passenger railway, to protect heritage assets and create mixed use space.

However, a meeting of the council’s planning committee heard local residents, members of the Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway and the authority’s conservation officer had criticised the proposed conversion, despite regarding the existing building an eyesore.

The meeting was told the proposed building would use render and cladding which would create a harsh contrast in the street scene and harm the setting of listed buildings.

Ward member Councillor Eleanor Lister said Northgate residents were strongly opposed to the plans.

She said: “Just because we have an ugly, nondescript building there now doesn’t mean to say we have to have another ugly nondescript building.There’s a lot of work going in North Lodge Park to boost the area’s heritage and give us a bit of kudos in Northgate.”

Councillor Nick Wallis said the building on the site before the bedding centre had been a police station, which had been built “in the 19th century character of much of Northgate”.

He said: “This building pays little if any respect to the church next door, the United Reform Church, or other parts of the conservation area that is close by.”

Cllr Wallis urged members to reject the scheme, saying the council was about to spend millions of pounds upgrading buildings in the area and highlighted how the mansion of Edward Pease, the main promoter of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, was just a few doors away from the proposed block of flats.

However, the meeting was told that councillors effectively had their hands tied by Government planning policy as to refuse it on grounds of design they would have to prove the scheme would cause “substantial harm” to the area’s character.

Councillor Charles Johnson added: “No one will be prepared to build something on that site that is in tune with the architecture of the church. That is pie in the sky. We should not bury our heads in the sand and expect such a building. We are supposed to be a council looking forward.”