In our series on Darlington group leaders a year before local elections, a Lib Dem councillor tells local democracy reporter Gareth Lightfoot of a turnaround in the town, but for how long?

LIBERAL Democrat Councillor Anne-Marie Curry laughs when asked about levelling up: “I’ve lived in the south. Levelling up is a long way off.

“I’m not yet sure that we’re getting proper levelling up, whether what we’re getting is token gestures."

Token gesture or not, she concedes the investment and jobs on the way are “great for Darlington”.

“It could reach its potential as a great place to visit,” she adds, referring to the forthcoming Rail Heritage Quarter, “Disneyland-style” attraction and railway bi-centenary celebrations in 2025.

Read more: 'Disneyworld' Darlington railway heritage attraction progresses

“I think we’re coming to a very exciting time in Darlington with our rail heritage and the history that we’ve got,” says Cllr Curry.

“And I hope we make the most of it in consultation with the residents. We need to bring the residents along with us, not do it to them.”

Not before time, she argues: “I’ve been harping on about the fact that in 2025 the world and its brother are going to come to visit us and we’re not prepared for it.

“They are doing stuff now to get prepared. But to me we should have been doing something long before that, and advertising our iconic status.

“I just don’t understand how previous people have lost sight of our wonderful heritage.

“We have not played the ace card constantly, and we should have been.

“If we do this right we could have people coming time after time for that experience.”

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Speaking as Liberal Democrat group leader, before she took on the role of town mayor, she says calls for the council to move from a cabinet to committee system – “more democratic because all councillors on the committees have a say and a right to vote” – were rejected.

She expresses cautious optimism about progress in the last three years: “There has been more money coming to Darlington and there is the offer of more jobs coming to Darlington.

“Because we have a Tory council, Tory MP, Tory mayor and Tory government, Darlington has been very lucky in getting funding, jobs and visits from key people.

“How long this will last, I don’t know.

“It has been a turnaround and it’s something we did not see under the long reign of Labour.

“Tories have to work hard up in the North-east because they want to hold their seats.

“So we have that benefit with Tory MPs and Tory councils working together to bring funding, jobs and initiatives into their constituencies.

“And that will happen for a while and then it will slowly fade, as always.”

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She says council ambitions have been “hampered” by cuts, but sees encouraging signs for the future.

“The general services got really hit by those cuts,” she adds.

“The money’s not there yet.

“Our social service teams are now being built back up again. I know other areas are being built back up again because we had to go down to almost bare minimum at one point in certain areas, which was not fair to Darlington.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Anne-Marie Curry. Picture: Chris Booth.Cllr Anne-Marie Curry. Picture: Chris Booth.

She believes next year’s Darlington elections will be “very interesting”, with the potential for more Lib Dem, Green and Independent seats.

“Which could completely change the look of the council,” she says.

“But it’s down to each of us to do the work.”

And so she says it comes back to the job which had been restricted by lockdowns, of going out, meeting people, finding issues, proving “we’re listening and we hear what people say”.

“Don’t talk at them, talk with them."

Tomorrow: Greens


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