THE council officer behind an ambitious plan to transform Darlington’s riverside areas has said the scheme will be at the heart of the town’s regeneration plan for the next 20 years.

Tim Crawshaw, principal officer for environment and urban design at Darlington Borough Council, spoke at a meeting of the Environment Agency’s Northumbria regional flood and coastal committee (NRFCC), where he outlined the aims of the scheme and how it will tackle flooding in the Skerne.

The proposed Town Centre Fringe scheme for Darlington will regenerate an overlooked area of the town, creating a riverside walk along a rejuventated River Skerne and opening up land for extra businesses and 600 homes, as well as major changes to the inner ring road.

Mr Crawshaw told the meeting that the River Skerne has informal flood defences which can be strengthened as part of the long-term improvements.

He said: “We want to create a flood alleviation scheme that contains the river by creating a green corridor, a linear park through the town. At the moment the whole area around the river is a bit depressing and we want to make it somewhere you want to take your kids on a bike ride.

“We need to stop the ring road being a barrier between the town centre and the rest of the town. We’re going to do that by removing those strips of empty land between the two carriageways of the ring road and giving that land back to the river so it can breathe.

“At the moment the land around the river is not well utilised – we want to turn it into something that could be an opportunity for growth for the next 20 years, with the river as its lifeblood.”

Darlington Borough Council has been awarded £100,000 by NFRCC to help with the planning and design of the Fringe scheme.

Frank Morgan, chairman of NFRCC, said: “This is an exciting project. It seems like one of those classic examples of projects that can contribute towards regeneration and helping bring back the river as a focal point of the community.

“It takes a far seeing council to look at the sort of problems that are here and create them into something as interesting and exciting as what we have here.”