A PLAN that outlines how many houses will be built in and around Darlington over the coming decades will encourage people to live in the town centre, as councillors admit there will be a "much reduced" retail presence.

Darlington Borough Council's place scrutiny committee heard the town will be a "very different place in 2036", as it passed comment on the draft local plan.

The council’s masterplan for the town includes 55 policies, such as transport and protecting historic interests, as well as sites it considers would be best for housing developments.

During a meeting yesterday, councillors said they supported a "town centre first" approach for retailers, which would see them having to explore all town centre opportunities before they considered setting up elsewhere.

However, they also accepted it was "challenging times" for the town centre and the option of encouraging people to live there should be explored.

The draft local plan states: "The town centre will continue to be the primary retail centre in the borough.

"It will be enhanced and safeguarded as such, and will be expected to accommodate additional retailing for much of the period.

"The council accepts that the face of retailing is changing and the roles of town centres need to change to reflect that, with a more flexible approach to uses within the high street including encouraging people to live in town centres."

Councillor Malcolm Wright backed the idea, saying: "It seems to me the increase of people shopping online has made it more and more difficult for the town centre, and there is going to be reduced retail - we have seen that in the last few weeks (with M&S).

"The biggest changes we will see in Darlington town centre are the uses and the activities in the town centre - we are talking about a long time period."

David Hand, planning policy manager, also reminded the committee that Darlington does not have a green belt, and that should not be confused with building on fields.

The draft local plan is expected to be approved by the council's cabinet on Tuesday. A six week consultation place will then take place with residents.

The plan is expected to be adopted in autumn 2019.

For details on the plan, visit microsites.darlington.gov.uk/local-plan.