A REFRESHED vision for the future of Darlington town centre has been praised as “positive”.

Darlington Borough Council’s opposition leader Councillor Heather Scott, who has previously criticised the authority’s level of ambition for the central area, said the authority’s latest blueprint would help encourage more visitors.

Cllr Scott’s comments come ahead of a meeting of the authority’s Cabinet next week, where members will discuss its revised strategy following what its leaders have described as “seismic changes” in the retail sector.

The new vision will seek to develop Darlington’s unique selling points, establish new “anchors” such as a revitalised indoor market and invest in heritage assets like the historic yards and wynds.

Other key objectives include reducing the area of the town centre devoted to shops and transforming empty shops and derelict pieces of land with sustainable uses such as residential accommodation.

The meeting will hear council officers have launched several feasibility studies to revamp the Victorian Indoor Market and change the use of some prominent empty buildings and vacant land.

Councillor Chris McEwan, the authority’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “We’re taking a holistic approach to the future of the town centre and looking at how we can secure Government funding, as well as working alongside private investors, to future-proof our town centre.

“The town centre is vital not only to our economy, but also to our sense of community and well-being as a town.”

Cllr Scott said she believed the authority was on the right track by aiming to utilise the charm and physical attractiveness of areas of the town such as the yards and wynds as people visiting Darlington wanted to “have an experience”.

She said: “The indoor market is a magnificent building and it could be put to more use. We should be looking at its opening hours. We have got to be more imaginative. In other towns market halls are used for all kinds of events.”

Cllr Scott said while she supported the aim to create more homes in the town centre, the council should also review its business rates policy as the charges deterred many independent traders from locating there.

She added it was vital the council worked closely with businesses on the scheme.