TRADERS in a County Durham tows say they fear plans to close a walkway through a shopping centre will be "devastating" for their businesses.

A planning application has been submitted to Durham County Council by the Department of Work and Pensions to move Bishop Auckland's Job Centre into the Newgate Centre.

The plans would see the Job Centre occupy three premises currently in the centre, including the current New Look store.

These retail units will be joined together, meaning the entrance to the shopping centre from Fore Bondgate will be permanently closed – which has caused major concern for retailers on the street.

Many traders on Fore Bondgate fear the move could have a lasting impact on their businesses.

The main concern is it would affect on the flow of people using the centre as a thoroughfare that gives Fore Bondgate businesses much of their trade.

The entrance also serves a number of short stay and disabled car parking spaces which people use for convenience shopping, to access the Newgate Centre.

With the link closed, shoppers will be forced to go around to the Newgate Centre entrance on Newgate Street or by Bishop Auckland bus station.

Laura Knight of Tinkers Treasures on Fore Bondgate said: “We’re going to be massively affected by it. I think it’s ridiculous and I don’t think it should be allowed to go ahead.

“People use that walkway all the time and if they stopped and had to walk around then it will be devastating for us and the street.

“We’re all up and coming independent retailers and businesses on one of the oldest streets in Bishop Auckland but this could end that.”

Sam Zair from Zair’s Café said: “Closing the entrance from the Newgate Shopping Centre through to Fore Bondgate is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard of.

“If this is approved by Durham County Council planning department it will put a huge burden on people’s businesses and their livelihood in a time when the retail world is at its lowest.

“When the Newgate Centre was developed back in the early eighties the plan was that it would create an opportunity for shoppers to access all parts of the town.

“Properties in Bondgate back then had to give way through compulsory purchase orders so this entrance could be made available.

“By closing this walkway, it will penalise businesses in Fore Bondgate.

“There has been no consultation with businesses in Bondgate, which makes me think that they are not interested in us.

“I would like to ask Edinburgh House to rethink their plans. There has to be another way other than closing this entrance.”

Kevin Close manager at Windrow Sports said: “Its an absolute travesty. It's going to make this street an island and completely isolate us.

“I was not notified until this yesterday, when a colleague told me about it – we haven’t been consulted on it at all.

“Its outrageous that they would block off the very busy thoroughfare from the Newgate Centre, which connects to the car park at North Bondgate.

“A lot of people park up in the short stay car park for around half an hour, if they close the thoroughfare then there is no reason to park there anymore.

“Closing the walkway would mean that they would walk further, and having to walk around to another entrance of the Newgate Centre will put people off. This street would become so isolated and I really worry for its future.”

The Newgate Centre has been contacted for a comment on the plans.

This comes after plans were submitted last year to develop a three screen cinema and small leisure complex in the Newgate Centre. The cinema would occupy the site of the former Argos, and will be accompanied by food chains.