MORE details of a £45m development which is set to transform a North-East town centre have emerged.

The layouts and artist's impressions are included in outline plans for a major redevelopment in Darlington, which includes a shopping centre, an 85,000 sq ft flagship department store, a leisure complex and a multi-storey car park.

The proposal by St Martins Property Developments will effectively expand the town's Queen Street Centre westwards.

Business leaders have broadly welcomed the investment and the hundreds of jobs the development will create - while regeneration experts say it will boost the town's economy and attract shoppers from further afield.

As long as the development is designed with Darlington's market town history and reputation in mind, they say it will be good news for the area.

Eleven years ago, the Cornmill Centre opened and changed the face of shopping in Darlington.

Seven million visitors a year come through its doors.

However, it does not have the large units required to attract big name retailers to the town and is simply unable to compete with well-established shopping centres, such as Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough.

Retails analysts believe the shopping developments contained within St Martins' proposals will begin to redress that balance.

Anthony Platts, of Wise Speke, said: "There are a lot of people in the commuter areas of Darlington, as far away as Yarm and Eaglescliffe, who have superb access routes into Darlington, but tend to head the other way to Teesside Retail Park at the moment. Even Middlesbrough picks up some trade that really ought to be going to Darlington."

The shopping complex, leisure facilities and multi-storey car park have been described by business leaders as essential for the town's future.

But concern has also been expressed that the presence of such a major retail centre could have a harmful effect on other areas of the town, such as High Row and the Cornmill Centre - an issue Mr Platts accepted is a possibility.

The former Dressers shop, in High Row, remains empty, and while fashion chain Next was understood to be interested in the unit, a spokesman for the firm has said it has no plans at the moment.

If such a prominent shop unit remained empty, it could lead people to turn their backs on the "older" part of town.

Mr Platts said: "It is up to areas that could be forgotten in all this to bring themselves up to date and have a niche market so they do not become a backwater in the town."

A flagship department store, such as Debenhams, is expected to take the largest unit in the proposed centre, which could affect the huge Binns' store, in High Row.

But a spokesman for House of Fraser said it welcomed the competition

"It will bring more shoppers into the town and increase footfall across the board. Investing money like this can only be a good thing," he said.

Cornmill deputy manager Susan Young said the new shopping centre would be a welcome addition to Darlington - and added that if plans to pedestrianise the town centre are adopted, it will become very attractive to shoppers.

She said: "It will make Darlington a much bigger retail experience. More shops mean shoppers will be here longer, so it will be good for cafes and other similar outlets as well."

The outline plans have been approved by Darlington Borough Council, but, due to the size of the proposed development, must now be passed by the Deputy Prime Minister, before St Martins can submit detailed plans to the council.

Outline of the proposed development

* The development will cover a 6.42 acre site.

* The flagship department store will be 85,000sq ft and take up the only two-storey unit in the shopping centre.

* There will be 25 other shops in the centre.

* The Lounge and Regent House will have to be demolished to make way for the 26,000sq ft leisure complex, which will be built on the Commercial Street car park.

* The leisure complex could include a cinema, health and fitness studio, or bingo.

* Access to the multi-storey car park, to be built on the existing Kendrew Street car park, will be from St Augustine's Way, not Gladstone Street.

* The multi-storey car park will have ten levels and provide 800 spaces.

* There will also be 230 parking spaces available on the second floor of the shopping complex, connected to the multi-storey car park by a bridge over St Augustine's Way