A PLAN to attract 200,000 more visitors to a North-East town every year by creating an array of railway heritage attractions has moved forward with the purchase of buildings linked to the birth of the world’s first passenger railway.

Leading members of Darlington Borough Council this week approved spending an undisclosed amount of funding it has received from the Government as part of a drive to level up the UK economy on buying a vacant ground floor takeaway premises and some upper storey rooms.

The former pizza shop forms part of the railway entrepreneur Edward Pease’s home in Northgate, where on April 19, 1821 the Quaker mill owner met Tyneside colliery engineer George Stephenson, perhaps for the first time.

The authority’s resources portfolio holder, Councillor Charles Johnson said: “This is where Stephenson convinced Pease that his steam loco would do much better than horse and Pease took a chance on that. It was a deal with changed Darlington, and you could argue the world. The railways in Darlington right up to the 1960s was big business and it all stemmed from that particular discussion.”

While heritage enthusiasts have long claimed the state of the property’s street level frontage is unbefitting of such an important historic site, Cllr Johnson said the council had found its first floor and upwards was in a good condition externally, so it was worth investing in.

Under the authority’s plans to mark the 2025 Stockton & Darlington Railway bi-centenary, the property is set to form part of a railway heritage trail in the North Road area.

Cllr Johnson said the council had also used Government funding to buy a terraced house near Morrisons on North Road, which is thought to be one of the first railway workers’ cottages.

He said the property would feature on the heritage trail close to the historic Skerne Railway Bridge, which appeared on £5 notes in the 1990s.

The move follows the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway being awarded £35,000 from the Government’s culture recovery fund for heritage to help preserve the trackbed of the world’s first modern railway.