AN MP is backing calls to bring the final curtain down on a once flagship theatre and leisure complex.

Stockton North MP Frank Cook revealed ideas are being discussed to replace the 33-year-old Billingham Forum with a development which will serve as model for the rest of the UK to follow.

He refused to "add to irresponsible speculation" that supermarket chain Morrisons wants to operate a supermarket being proposed for the Forum site, rather than build a store across the road on The Causeway site of the Stockton and Billingham College, which it has bought.

The company is waiting to hear the outcome of an appeal - based on a technicality - against refusal of planning approval allowing it to build a supermarket on the campus, once the college relocates to a new site at Thornaby.

No one was available yesterday to comment on behalf of the firm.

Mr Cook, who is attending a conference in Turkey, said: "Billingham town centre needs to be completely revamped. In order to do that, lots of ideas have to be brought together.

"We are seeking to replace what was a market leader - a trend setter 30 years ago, which set a benchmark for everyone else to follow - with a benchmark for other people to follow in the future."

Stockton Borough Council decided at a meeting last week to consult further with people on proposals to demolish the Forum and replace it with a showcase complex at John Whitehead Park, opposite.

Mr Cook said: "Some people are anxious we do not lose the Forum. If the Forum had a legitimate bench or shelf life, that would go on, I would be of the same mind. But, it has already exceeded its design life and there are more efficient, more effective ways of providing similar facilities. That is all part of the discussion process which is in train and has been for some considerable time."

* Dr Frank King, chairman of Stockton and Billingham College governors, said: "The plans for the relocation of the college are going ahead satisfactorily."

The college will go out to tender next month to find a builder for the new campus adjoining the site of the University College, Stockton, at Thornaby