THE region's newest shopping development opened yesterday, with the help of celebrities - both real and imitation.

Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson opened Dalton Park, a £50m shopping centre built on a former colliery spoil heap in Murton, east Durham.

To help the celebrations, stilt walkers dressed as Madonna and J-Lo mingled with shoppers, along with other celebrity look-a-likes, Edina and Patsy, Posh 'n' Becks and Lily Salvage. Visitors were entertained by salsa-dancing and fashion shows.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson judged a best dressed man contest featuring men who had been brought into the shopping centre and kitted out with clothes by their girlfriends. Earlier in the day, she showed off her musical talents when she briefly played Mozart on the piano at the opening ceremony.

People flocked to the centre all day and by midday only 15 of the 1,200 car-parking spaces remained and contingency car-parking had to be used.

The celebrations continued until 9pm, when live music and a fireworks display rounded off the day.

Councillor Alan Napier, leader of Easington District Council, said the opening of the shopping centre was the first stage of planned redevelopment of east Durham. The next phase will be the building of a leisure development.

Discussions are still ongoing, but it is expected to include hotels, restaurants and bars and will be situated up the road from Dalton Park.

The Dalton Flatts Action Group fought relentlessly to secure the development, which is situated in what was one of the region's worst economic black spots.

Nearly 70 per cent of the 800 people employed in the shopping centre are from Easington district.

Action group secretary Derek Gibson said: "It's a relief to see it off the ground. I'm really pleased, it's fantastic."