TALKS are expected to reopen in the New Year to find a new centrepiece development for a stalled shopping centre scheme.

Discovery Properties is trying to find a replacement for Debenhams, which had been due to be the centrepiece of the Oval development, in Darlington.

Discovery Properties was given permission to build the complex in Commercial Street in 2006, but the plans were shelved when the economic downturn hit.

Original designs for the £110m scheme featured a multiplex cinema, a large Debenhams store and 30 shops.

However, the development has been beset by problems, linked to the global economy and the project has been delayed indefinitely.

Debenhams was due to take the department store space in the complex, but pulled out and will instead move into the offices of The Northern Echo, in Darlington town centre.

The company’s decision led to speculation about the viability of the Oval development.

The conjecture has also been heightened by plans for a leisure complex including a multi-screen cinema on the Feethams area around Darlington town hall.

Asked whether the Oval development would still go ahead, Hugo Hawkins, Discovery’s chief executive, said he “could not give a straight answer”.

He said the company needed to allow developers time to see how successful the Christmas and New Year shopping period was.

He said: “The key to the Oval development is an anchor tenant to take the main department store. We are in discussions with a developer.

“I do not see any sight of a resolution, but there is somebody out there. If they take it, we will start the process again. We need to re-jig the planning application and we will to need to sort some bits and pieces out. It will be able to go ahead, but not overnight.

“It is a very difficult market. As a consequence, retailers are being incredibly careful.”

A Darlington Borough Council spokeswoman said: “We still have a development agreement with Discovery Properties, who are continuing to investigate the possibility of development on this site in what are very challenging economic times.”