I WAS disappointed that Cllr Chris McEwan issued a “use it or lose it” challenge to the public over Darlington town centre. Blaming customers and shoppers is simplistic and unhelpful.

Residents can’t be blamed for the irreversible trend towards online shopping, taking advantage of retail parks’ free parking or being deterred by the many glaring gaps on the high street.

New ideas for reviving the town centre were plentiful at a meeting held at the Bannatyne Hotel in Darlington last month.

Those attending agreed the critical importance of increasing residential and office use. The council should also do more on car parking; wholescale change is needed, not just free parking on the town centre fringe.

Other ideas emerged from the meeting including creating a town centre development company with planning oversight, reducing the size of the town centre with a review of development sites, promotion of the town’s proud railway history and returning the outdoor market to the Market Place (with free short-stay parking there when the market is not on).

The council must listen more closely to the business community, which has a vested interest in Darlington’s success, and together we can produce creative and innovative plans to secure the town centre’s future.

Colleagues who attended the meeting last month are keen to establish a more formal independent campaign. If the council does not embrace big ideas with more haste this might be necessary.

Anne Elliott, Latimer Hinks Solicitors, Darlington