PROSPECTS of a department chain opening a major store in a North-East town centre have moved a step closer after developers formally submitted a planning application.

Plans have been submitted on behalf of the Moorfield Group, owners of the Cornmill Shopping Centre, to build a Debenhams store in the offices of The Northern Echo, in Darlington town centre.

The application follows a consultation exercise last month when the public was invited to inspect plans for the proposed store and ask questions of the developers.

The development is expected to create 200 jobs in the four-storey 62,000 sq ft department store. Much of the changes to the building will be behind the doors of The Northern Echo offices.

Internal walls and stairs will be removed with new stairs and lifts installed. A new service yard area will be created for the nearby Post Office, as well as Debenhams.

A new link will be created between The Northern Echo offices and the main mall of the Cornmill Centre at the loss of three retail units.

Externally, new doors and entrances will be created. The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times lettering would be relocated to the top of the building with new Debenhams signage added.

Susan Young, Cornmill Centre manager, said: “The submission of the planning application means we are one step closer to bringing this exciting new development to Darlington, which will not only provide a positive boost to the retail offer for the town, but will create a number of new jobs in the process.

“This follows our public and stakeholder consultation events, the feedback from which has been taken into consideration within the planning documents, alongside extensive reports on areas including the design, transport, access and conservation.

We’ve been really pleased with the positive reaction to the scheme to date and we hope to have the planning decision by the end of the year. A full timeline of on-site activity will be determined from there.”

Councillor Chris McEwan, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “The plans are exciting. The project is exciting. The prospect of more shopping opportunities and more jobs for Darlington is also exciting.”

The Northern Echo has been based in Priestgate since the first copy was published on January 1, 1870. The building was redeveloped in 1916.

David Coates, regional manager of The Northern Echo’s publishers, has promised that the newspaper would continue to be based in the heart of the town.