DARLINGTON will never be the same again. Nor will Middlesbrough and Aylesbury, Cirencester and Shrewsbury.

Losing your House of Fraser department store is a blow to the prestige of a posh Southern market town as much as it is to the Tees Valley.

If this was happening in isolation, then it would be bad enough. Following the announcement two weeks ago that Marks & Spencer’s town centre shops are facing the axe, and rumours that other big retailers are on the brink of collapse, it looks like part of a trend – the end of an era.

The list of places where House of Fraser shops are earmarked for closure, which includes London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Milton Keynes, shows that no one is immune to the plague blighting high streets.

We’ve been here before of course. Smaller department stores, Doggarts, Bainbridge, Woolworth and the like, used to be mainstays of most medium-sized towns across the North, and all fell victim to changing tastes.

The big challenge facing a place such as Darlington is how can it adapt quickly to the rapidly changing conditions.

Plans are afoot to encourage more people to live in the town centre, increasing demand for bars, eateries and independent shops. But that will take years. In the meantime, there will be more cavernous floorspace standing empty.

The town needs a plan and people with the vision and ambition to see it through.

This is a blow. Whether it is a devastating blow from which the town never recovers depends very much on what happens next.