ONE of the Government's most senior architects of devolution yesterday backed Durham City as the best home for any future North-East regional assembly.

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said: "I have talked to a lot of people from throughout this region and there is a growing consensus that Durham is the right location. I think that will be an outcome welcome in most parts of the region and probably the right one."

Speaking during a visit to Darlington, he said that he understood the concerns of those who fear a "Geordie Parliament" if an assembly was set up on Tyneside.

Mr Raynsford, who heads the department which is drawing up the plans for regional assemblies, added: "I hear these concerns and I understand them, I very much hope they won't be realised.

"Our wish is for a regional framework so every part of the region is effectively represented.

"I can't say where the regional assembly will be based, if I did it would be Government telling the region what is right for the region.

"It is vital that Darlington and other areas should feel fully represented."

The Northern Echo has already thrown its weight behind Durham City as the best place for an assembly - if a majority referendum opts for devolution.

Mr Raynsford's comments were backed by Brian Hall, co-ordinator of the campaign for a North-East Assembly. "There is a consensus within the campaign that Durham is the centre of the region, both geographically and historically," he said.

"But it is important to say that the assembly can also meet in other places as well, like Middlesbrough, Berwick or Newcastle."

Mr Raynsford added that an information campaign was planned so people could make informed choices in a referendum, expected to take place in October next year.

Mr Raynsford was speaking during a visit to Firthmoor Community Centre, in Darlington, to show how community partnerships can regenerate run-down estates.

He was impressed by the successful regeneration project on the Firthmoor estate, and said it should be used as a model for other estates across the country.