A SPECIAL task group set up to investigate the future of Darlington’s markets has concluded that capital investment is vital to prevent further decline of the indoor market and its heritage.

The town’s historic Covered Market must be “radically and bravely re-examined” and made a priority for funding to ensure it stays relevant in the changing economy, the group has agreed.

Councillors and officers from Darlington Borough Council met with representatives from both the indoor and outdoor markets to discuss the current situation and plans for the coming years at a series of meetings held over a year.

In a final report presented to the council’s place scrutiny committee, which led the investigations, members agreed a number of key findings – particularly that the Market Hall and the adjoining clock tower and the Old Town Hall were too important to Darlington to allow them to deteriorate.

The task group has recommended that the council should publicly state its commitment to the ‘retention and maintenance’ of the buildings and that a capital bid for the refurbishment of the market should be prioritised.

Investigations into the building work required at the meeting suggest that repairs to the roof, together with electrical and mechanical works, could cost up to £2m.

Further investment would be required to improve the overall appearance of the stalls within the market by making the layout simpler and more open.

Discussing the need for a radical rethink on the future of the market, the task group noted: “It was felt that the market’s continued use as a food hall was a key anchor to any future use.

“The continued use as a trading area is fundamental; however, it is essential that the use of the building is diversified, possibly to include its use into the night-time economy to get best value out of the use of the building.

“There is a need to look at its opening hours so its use could be multi-functional and collaborative.”

A number of short-term actions that could be easily achieved without too much investment were put forward by the group, including the increased use of social media to promote the markets, improved signage and small changes to the outside of the building to increase its appearance from High Row.

However, the group warned against ‘piecemeal’ changes and said any significant investment in the building must be done with a long-term outlook.

The report outlining the issues facing the market and the full list of recommendations will be sent to senior councillors in the cabinet for a decision on the direction to take in the coming weeks.