CONSERVATIVES have stepped up the pressure on a council facing unprecedented changes to its town centre by challenging the authority to formally abandon its controversial decision to relocate its central library.

Darlington’s Crown Street library should be retained and a centre celebrating the town’s heritage, such as railways, created in the Victorian building, the chairman of the town’s Conservative Association and the leader of Darlington Borough Council’s Conservative group have said.

Councillors Charles Johnson and Heather Scott have also called for most of the £1.6m earmarked for the library move to the Dolphin Centre to be spent on covering lanes in the town centre to entice shoppers all-year-round or building a bus station.

The calls come as the council searches for more ways to secure the town centre’s future, following the continuing drop-off of visitors and M&S and House of Fraser announcing plans to pull out of Darlington. They also follow the council’s leader Councillor Stephen Harker and town’s Labour MP Jenny Chapman stating the library move should be put on hold due to the mounting town centre concerns.

In a statement, the leading Conservatives said a fundamental review of strategy to support the town centre was urgent.

They stated: “It is imperative that all interested parties are listened to and it is not another ‘Labour Cabinet knows best’ exercise.

“The last retail study commissioned in 2017 was still recommending the development of retail premises on Commercial Street car park.

“Clearly the right questions are not bring asked and they must broaden the engagement to include options on car parking, traffic congestion, bus routes and better use of the market square to encourage more people to visit the town.”

Cllr Scott added Darlington’s rich heritage should be something “we should be shouting about” and the creation of a dedicated centre had the potential to attract visitors from outside the area.

She added: “The whole of the library building is not used to its full capacity and we have lots of groups who are really passionate about the town’s heritage.

“Coming to Darlington should be an experience and we have got to do everything we can to attract people in and look at everything if we are really serious about saving Darlington town centre.

“Something needs to be done pretty quickly. It is no good sitting around until Christmas to see what is going to happen with House of Fraser.”