Fitness entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told of his delight today after completing the deal which will keep his headquarters in Darlington.

The announcement from Mr Bannatyne, one of the North-East's richest men, is a huge boost to the town's efforts to attract major business investment over the coming years.

Bannatyne Fitness' head office will be housed in the former regional electricity board building on Haughton Road - next to one of the firm's health clubs - and development of the site will begin in the summer.

The deal, which is for an undisclosed sum, also includes three acres of land adjacent to the health club.

It puts an end to fears that Mr Bannatyne could leave for Durham, following his withdrawal from the edge-of-town Morton Palms development.

He was involved in a dispute with town planners over whether JJB should be given permission to create a £6m Soccerdome nearby.

But Mr Bannatyne said yesterday: "The rapid expansion of the company has meant expanding our head office operation and we can see a number of benefits to the Haughton Road site.

"It offers us an important strategic base for the company and its future developments, as well as demonstrating the company's commitment to Darlington on a key approach into the town."

Bannatyne Fitness is also considering the development options for three acres included in the deal, provided developers can demonstrate plans will enhance the approach to Darlington.

The deal will also impact on facilities at the health club. The new site has 150 existing car-parking spaces, which will also be used for existing club members as well as provision for 50 head office staff.

And the parking extension has allowed Bannatyne Fitness to apply to extend the club to accommodate more members.

Mr Bannatyne added: "I always thought a deal could be reached that kept our HQ operation in Darlington.

"This deal gives us the opportunity to fly the flag for the town and provide much-needed car-parking for the members of our Darlington club.

"Lack of car parking was strangling one of our most successful clubs. This will be resolved and the club can expand in the near future."