POSITIVE headway is being made in a parking row that has divided Darlington, a trader who attended a private meeting with council officials has said.

The town’s leader, Councillor Bill Dixon, met with a cross-section of traders last week to discuss the heated issue.

The meeting was arranged in response to concerns raised by disgruntled traders who say restrictive parking policies – such as excess yellow lines, overly-efficient traffic wardens and too few loading bays - are impacting on business and putting off shoppers.

The issue came to a head recently when florist Rob Metcalfe put up posters accusing the council of creating a ghost town and said its parking policies had damaged his business and left him homeless.

His concerns were echoed last week by Distinct Darlington – a body that works closely with the council to improve the town centre and develop its business environment.

The organisation’s chair, businesswoman Nicola Reading, said the council needed to act before the town “died a death.”

Coun Dixon responded by organising last week’s meeting, which saw a small group of traders – not including Mr Metcalfe or Ms Reading - given the opportunity to air their concerns about parking and other issues.

Alex Blackham, who runs The Diner in Darlington’s covered market and helps to organise the town’s Sunday People’s Market, said the meeting had been positive.

He said: “The traders invited were from different areas of the town centre – different parts of the town have different issues and they were brought to the table.

“We told the council the things we thought needed to change and there were some common goals raised and some that were specific to certain areas.

“Many issues were raised, including parking, and the council said they would go away and speak to people and come back to us with their responses.”

He added: “I’m happy with the initial stages – it’s unreasonable to expect things to change straight away and if you give people false hope, the backlash could be quite brutal but we were discussing things to improve the whole experience of visiting Darlington.”

A council spokeswoman said: "The leader and senior officers met with a cross-section of traders and the meeting went very well and was productive with a good exchange of views and suggestions for the town.

“We will look into the suggestions and report back when we have more details and firmer proposals."