AN environmentally-friendly transport interchange worth £4.3m was unveiled yesterday.

The opening of Stanley Bus Station marks the first phase of a £16m regeneration programme for the town centre.

The building incorporates modern photovoltaic electricity generation equipment, which will supply most of the energy requirements.

It also has a rainwater "harvesting" system to collect water for toilet flushing.

Real-time information displays will give passengers up-to-date travel information and the newsagents will relocate to a shop inside the main concourse.

The building was opened by Councillor Alex Watson, leader of Derwentside District Council, Councillor David Llewellyn, executive member responsible for the economy, and Councillor Elizabeth Coulson, council chairwoman.

Coun Watson said: "We are delighted to be joined today by the community groups, local retailers and the Stanley Steering Group to celebrate the opening of this tremendous new facility.

"Lumsden and Carroll and our architects, engineers and other advisors have done a fantastic job, completing the new interchange to a very high standard and on time.

"The planned next stage will connect it with Front Street, which will really open up the town centre and be a catalyst for new opportunities and further investment."

The photovoltaic system will have a generating capacity sufficient to satisfy between two-thirds and three-quarters of the building's estimated annual electrical demands.

Traditional means of generating this amount of energy would release about six tonnes of carbon dioxide - the equivalent of the emissions produced by an average family saloon car every 16,000 miles.

John Davies, managing director of Lumsden and Carroll Construction, said: "This has been a very interesting project to be involved with.

"We understand this is the first major new building in the county to incorporate photovoltaic technology.

"We have enjoyed working with Derwentside District Council throughout and, in addition, would like to thank the business community and people of Stanley for their understanding and co-operation during the construction period.

"We have worked hard to keep disruption to a minimum and I'm sure both passengers and bus companies are looking forward to using their new facilities."

Bus companies Go Ahead Northern and Hunters and Stanley Taxis will start their regional and local services from the new building on Sunday.