THE announcement of a £30m scheme to build a major leisure and hotel complex in Darlington sparked an overwhelmingly positive reaction yesterday. Vicki Henderson reports.

A RADICAL new development that could transform the heart of Darlington and create hundreds of jobs has been unveiled as part of a multi-million pound deal.

The ambitious proposal to build an entertainment hub with a nine-screen multiplex cinema and 80-bedroom hotel was announced by Darlington Borough Council after months of negotiations with developers.

The £30m complex, which will also include a number of bars, restaurants and pubs built around an open-air plaza on the banks of the River Skerne, has been hailed as an exciting development for Darlington that could transform the town’s economic fortunes.

Up to 500 jobs could be created if the development goes ahead, with many more generated during the construction phase.

News of the development was announced yesterday morning and instantly sparked a huge reaction on The Northern Echo website and on social networks Twitter and Facebook.

While the majority were positive about the prospect of a new cinema and restaurants to visit, some questioned whether the development would ever materialise and pointed to previous plans for a cinema multiplex in the town, in the proposed Oval development, that faltered in the economic downturn.

The deal signed between Darlington Borough Council and property development group Terrace Hill will see them redevelop a 0.75 hectare plot on the site of the town’s former bus station, now being used as a car park.

Terrace Hill announced that it has secured an agreement with VUE Entertainment to operate the cinema, and is in advanced discussions with Whitbread to operate an 80-bedroom Premier Inn hotel and Brewers Fayre family restaurant in the complex.

A company spokesman said the group had already received strong interest from a number of national restaurant and leisure chains about the facility, as well as proposals from independent businesses.

Planning applications will be submitted in the New Year, with the developers hoping to be open for business by December 2014.

The leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, said the development was an ‘exciting step forward’ for the town.

He said: “I’m very excited by this. It’s an absolutely stunning result for the town.

“It shows that outside of Darlington people have faith in the town and its future and that we can go from strength to strength with developments like this and others that are in the pipeline.

“This really sets the scene for further consultation with people in the town about the town centre and shows that if we want something enough then we can recognise it and attract developers.

“It makes me really positive about the future of the town. There are opportunities out there, we just have to go out and grab them.”

When asked how confident he was that the complex would open by December 2014 he said: “I can see no reason why it wouldn’t happen.

“The council has to pass over the land to the developer which will happen in the next few weeks and then, once it’s been through the planning process, the land is ready and waiting.

“It’s in a good spot in the town with great access, so the building should be able to go ahead without too much disruption to the existing businesses in the town.”

The proposed development was also welcomed by Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, who said it was the highlight of a ‘rollercoaster week’ for Darlington, following the news that hundreds of jobs could be at risk at the Department for Education site at Mowden Hall.

She said: “The potential loss of Mowden Hall was devastating news for Darlington but this development is a very welcome announcement and a great investment in the town centre.

“It would be a boost I’m sure to the town centre retailers and would fill the entertainment gap in Darlington. I’m very pleased at this news.”

Terrace Hill will hold several weeks of consultation about the scheme before submitting a planning application.

Duncan McEwan, head of retail and leisure development at Terrace Hill, said: “We are delighted to have been selected for this scheme. We very much look forward to working with Darlington Borough Council in delivering what we hope will be a hugely exciting and popular scheme for the area.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Alana Stevenson, Firthmoor, no age supplied
“I think it might bring people in, but there’s lots of problems with parking in the town centre already”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Kirsty Bage, 27, from Middlesbrough
“Whenever I’m in Darlington we have to go to Teesside Park or Boro. So especially for people who don’t drive or can’t get there, it’s a really good idea, I think they do need it.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Callum Walton, 17, Ferryhill
“It’s good to have more places for young people to go. The other cinema is too far away to walk from college, and I can’t think of anything else the money would be better spent on”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: David Humphreys, 57, Skerne Park
“It’s not before time. It might be a good idea, and it’s a gamble you’ve got to take. The town needs something like this.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Kimberley Harland, 18, Horton
“I think it’ll mean that more people will go to the cinema, and a nice pub would be good too. Also, a Ben & Jerry’s stand in the cinema would improve everything.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: James Metcalfe, 34, Bishop Auckland
“It looks good. It can only benefit Darlington if people are putting money back in rather than taking it elsewhere. Better to have it in the centre too, rather than a retail park somewhere.”

Lynn Groves, 59, Broughton Grove
‘I think it’s well overdue, and a good idea. But a new bus station could be more important, I don’t know why they didn’t just replace the old one. This might be good for people without transport, but others might leave Darlington anyway, just for the day out.”