TINY “parklets” to increase green space, bringing culture to a run-down river area and trying to smarten up historic buildings are some of the ideas for how an area of Darlington could be turned around.

Darlington Borough Council revealed some of its ideas for how a masterplan for the Northgate area of the town could be regenerated during the first of its consultation events yesterday.

Darlington has been allocated £22m from the Government's Towns Fund, about half of which will go to Northgate.

Chris Mains, Towns Fund manager, described the 15-year project as “ambitious”.

He said: “Northgate is a conservation area at risk, You can see why its at risk just from looking up the road. There are a lot of historic buildings that are getting run down. We’re developing a masterplan and today is about getting ideas because this is a long term plan.

The Northern Echo:

“The Towns Fund can’t deliver it all – £10m isn’t enough. But it can be a catalyst to get things started.”

He added: “I think another message is that this is right at the beginning. Council engagement is criticised for not listening to people but we’re saying these are our ideas, what do you think?

“We can’t deliver them yet – we’re looking at a 15 year project.”

Officers attended two events in the area yesterday to talk to people, share the plans so far and ask for ideas from residents.

The council wants to improve the appearance of the historic buildings, and regenerate the area around the River Skerne to create a new route to the town centre.

Mr Mains said part of the vision was inspired by Ouseburn, in Newcastle, which has undergone a transformation in recent years.

“Think of the way Ouseburn used to be,” he said. “In a lot of ways its similar with the river, industrial past, being a bit run down.

"I want to keep that in mind and see if we can work towards something. There’s a lot of opportunity in the whole area at the back, right up the Skerne for lots of uses, not just residential but heritage and culture.”

The Northern Echo:

Ideas shown to the public also include reimagining how residential areas could look, by planting trees and reducing on-street parking space by creating tiny “parklets” – green areas the size of a parking space.

Other ambitions include removing inappropriate alterations from historic buildings.

As part of the Towns Fund, the council wants to develop the area around the Head of Steam museum as a rail heritage quarter and conserve Edward Pease’s house.

Bringing the increasingly run-down Northgate House back into use is also an ambition, and Mr Mains said the council would consider using a compulsory purchase order to buy it.

“It’s one of the options,” he said. “If someone else comes along with the right development then that’s another option.”

Northgate councillor Sajna Ali warned that the proposals had to benefit the areas’s residents. She said: “We want to see the ideas which are best for the residents are not just for profit. It has to be people before profit.

“That’s the most important thing because in Northgate people get forgotten about.

“We want things that will benefit the next generation.”

Matthew Snedker, from Darlington’s Green Party, who attended the event said he was “optimistic” about the proposals.

He added: “Cross party working on this is vital. When you’re talking about a masterplan of this level you’ve got to get all the aims of the plan understood by the community. There has to be community understanding because people will be worried.

“The first stage is to see they have got ambition and they have the commitment to start and go all the way, and deliver what we want it to deliver.”

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