The council has assembled key sites close to the Darlington Economic Campus at Brunswick Street. Credit: council documents

Darlington looks to advance town centre sites

Cabinet approval is sought to acquire a former Wilko store, with the council also looking to appoint a development partner to take forward three priority town centre plots.

A meeting of Darlington Council’s cabinet next week will be asked to sign off on an agreement in principle with a developer to take forward a series of sites in the town centre.

With a 1,400-employee civil service hub on stream at the town centre Brunswick Street site, Darlington is looking to bring forward projects that can fill obvious gaps in the town centre offer.

Quoted in the report to cabinet members is a report by consultancy AspinallVerdi from 2022, saying that in addition to the Darlington Economic Campus, the town will require 250,000 sq ft of workspace over the next decade.

As outlined by officers, Darlington’s adopted town centre strategy focuses on the diversification of the town centre, essentially by filling retail voids and vacant sites with residential and commercial uses.

To date, the former Sports Direct building been acquired and demolished, while the Northern Echo building has been acquired, with work now under way on its conversion into an adult training hub at ground floor with managed workspace above.

The Priestgate building was acquired by the council in 2002, with Towns Fund and Tees Valley Combined Authority backing. Workspace provider Adavo will design, deliver and operate the project.

Darlington’s three core areas of focus, which the council expects to take 10 to 15 years to come to full fruition, are at Kendrew Street, East Street and Commercial Street, and offer a range of development options including residential, mixed use and office led commercial development.

East Street

This area has long been earmarked for redevelopment, and the availability of the Wilko store – the building’s owner is now looking to sell – would give the council full control over a key 1.35-acre site.

In the long-term, it could look to deliver a mix of retail, leisure and offices, with residential also in play. Demolition is the preferred option, with brownfield development funding possibly being made available.

Although a short-term ‘meanwhile use’ is mentioned, officers are keen to secure the site to cut off the possibility of it being re-let to an “incompatible” user. The current Wilko building owner acquired the 125-year lease by assignment in 2017 from Hambro Life Assurance.

Commercial Street

This site comprises an existing surface car park and a cleared site on Union Street.

Kendrew Street

This parcel comprises the Kendrew Street car park, Northgate House – which the council is looking to acquire and demolish – and adjacent buildings, currently in private ownership.

The officer report said: “The town centre redevelopment would be a large and ambitious regeneration initiative of a scale that has not been seen since the town centre remodelling works carried out in the 1960s and 1980s.

“It also involves the key objective to establish a residential community in a location where the residential property market is still immature and emerging, making financial viability a key issue for its successful delivery. In addition, it will complement the DEC investment and ensure the anticipated demand for high quality office space can be met in the town centre.”

Acknowledging that significant public sector backing will be required to advance developments, officers said that the council should look for a partner with skills in public/private sector regeneration schemes early in the development process.

The partner, once appointed, would act as development manager, taking the schemes through planning and design through to construction and letting.

Darlington’s cabinet meets on Tuesday 11 June to consider the proposals.

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