COUNCILLORS have approved the release of almost half a million pounds to improve public transport infrastructure in an under-development area of a North-East town.

Planned projects in the Feethams area of Darlington include the Department for Education offices, for which building work is under way.

A multi-million pound leisure development, including nine-screen cinema, is also in the pipeline, as well as a multi-storey car park.

At a meeting on Tuesday (June 3), Darlington Borough Council's cabinet approved the release of £477,000 for improvements to the waiting area for bus and coach passengers at the front of the Town Hall.

The money is drawn from the Tees Valley Bus Network Improvement fund and was not available to be spent on any other council service.

Ian Williams, the council's director of economic growth, said the improvements would reduce traffic congestion in the town centre and increase demand for bus facilities.

The lack of a bus station in Darlington town centre has long been a talking point for residents, particularly since the former bus depot was demolished in 2009.

The site of the former bus station has been earmarked for the leisure development.

Following market research and consultation with bus operator Arriva, a series of changes was introduced to town centre bus services in October.

Details of the improvements to the infrastructure in front of the town hall, will now be finalised.

Mr Williams said work on the project could begin in September or October.

Councillor Chris McEwan, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, described the improvements as 'critical'.

Cllr Charles Johnson, of the opposing Conservative group, added: "This is good news for coach passengers, as the facilities they have to put up with at present are dire to say the least.

"Anything is going to be an improvement."