PLANS to change the face of a North-East town are on the verge of gaining council approval, despite a wave of opposition.

Campaigners on both sides of the debate over proposals to remove Victorian features from Darlington's High Row are gearing up for a planning committee meeting next week.

Four applications will be considered by councillors on Wednesday - and all of them are being recommended for approval by the authority's officers.

If approved, the plans would see the Victorian steps, railings and balustrades removed, and a disused toilet block pulled down.

There would be a level pedestrian area outside the High Row shops, with a set of steps built to connect the street to the lower level of Prebend Row and West Row, if another application is supported.

Features including floral arrangements, benches and lighting columns would be installed.

Listed building consent for the temporary dismantling of the Joseph Pease statue - unveiled in 1875 as part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway's 50th anniversary celebrations - is also being sought. A separate application seeks permission for the statue to be moved five metres from its present position.

The demolition of the Victorian features has been opposed by Darlington Civic Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England. But council officers are urging planning committee members to support the proposals, which are part of a £6.5m "pedestrian heart" scheme for the town centre.

A report to councillors accepts that the features selected for demolition "undoubtedly contribute to the town centre conservation area".

But it concludes: "As a result of various alterations, restoration programmes, vandalism and damage, together with a proliferation of street furniture and clutter that has accrued in the High Row area over the years, the contribution these particular features make is not considered to be so positive as to warrant retention of these features."

Councillors are being asked to advise the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that the authority has no objection to the demolition work. The same recommendation applies to the temporary dismantling of the statue.