A PLAN to transform Darlington into a top shopping destination by 2010 was unveiled by MP Alan Milburn yesterday.

The aim of the Darlington Town Centre Business Plan is to give traders and planners a focus to improve the area for shoppers, workers and residents.

The scheme will see the town centre pedestrianised in a bid to encourage more businesses to invest in the area and attract more visitors.

Mr Milburn said: "This is a new dawn for the town centre.

"Ten years ago, the town centre was far different from how it looks today. But this is going to make Darlington a far more attractive place for shoppers and workers.

"Quality counts and pedestrianisation will bring more people in and that will bring jobs.

"All around the town, there are new business developments that are going to transform the environment."

Mr Milburn was speaking at a meeting held for firms by Darlington Town Centre Management.

Key objectives of the plan are to improve the indoor and outdoor markets and encourage more leisure attractions for people during both the day and the evening.

The plan hopes to encaourge a greater number of high-quality restaurants and the development of more hotel facilities in the town.

Darlington Town Centre Management hopes to capitalise on rail and road links with the rest of the region and the country as a whole.

Town centre manager Louise Tomms said the town's strength was its mix of quality independent traders.

She said: "We want this to act as a catalyst to encourage business to come here."

The plan also aims to encourage wider participation in Sunday trading, develop an evening economy and improve safety measures to ensure customers have a good night out.

Councillor John Williams, leader of Darlington Borough Council and chairman of the town centre board, said: "I regard Darlington as the most business friendly sector in the region. This plan has vision and it is no use standing still. We have to go forward and we have big ideas in this plan."