A £600,000 town square which symbolised the rebirth of a rundown railway community has earned a major planning award.

The square in the centre of Shildon is the centrepiece of a £17m regeneration programme for the town led by Sedgefield Borough Council.

Council leader Brian Stephens and former chief executive Allan Roberts instigated the ambitious improvement project seven years ago and since then £2m has been spent boosting business in the town centre alone.

The square is dominated by a 6ft statue of rail pioneer Timothy Hackworth and, since it was built, Shildon has been chosen as the site for a new national railway museum which should attract thousands of visitors every year.

Last week Chris Offord, past chairman of the northern branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute, presented certificates to the Mayor, Coun Dave Newall, and the chairman of Shildon Chamber of Trade, Brian Stoker.

The borough's lead member for regeneration Coun Bill Waters said: "Approximately £2m has been spent on the improvement works and, with the co-operation of the local community, Shildon Town Centre has once again become a thriving shopping area after the closure of its main industry, the wagon works in 1984."