A CONTROVERSY-hit firm which runs “the UK’s finest covered market” looks set to be handed a further £2m of taxpayers’ money to create a visitor attraction garden and food and drink area at the historic landmark.

Following a redesign of the transformation of Darlington Victorian Market to meet Darlington Borough Council’s ambition for the market to become a focal point in the town, Market Asset Management has revealed the cost of the work will outstrip the initial projection of £1.5m for the scheme by some £550,000.

The project, which the Tees Valley Combined Authority has agreed to fund, features the installation of a bio-mass heating system and the redevelopment and changing the use of about one third of the market hall to provide a street food scene, bar and events stage, an enhanced entrance and extra public toilets.

The firm, which has been criticised by traders and councillors over its policies and operations, will produce and manage a full events diary and focus efforts on promoting a family-based evening economy to benefit the indoor and outdoor markets and the town centre.

Further work will include a face-lift to the remaining shop floor of the market with the aim of providing a more exciting place to shop as well as a mezzanine level business centre.

A key element of the building’s transformation will be the installation of a temperate garden on the eastern facing side of the building, next to the market square and redevelopment of large sections of the market vaults into a bar and restaurant.

A report to a meeting of the authority’s cabinet, which is expected to approve the firm’s plans next week, states: “It is hoped that the redevelopment will act as a real catalyst for the wider town centre and attract visitors from across the Tees Valley, Durham and North Yorkshire.”

The authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott said the authority had confidence in Market Asset Management to undertake the overhaul and after unveiling impressive plans and the firm changing its management structure.

She said: “It’s unfortunate that there have been delays due to Covid-19 restrictions, but with the repairs to the roof done and work on the first half of the indoor market, people are anxious to take the plans forward.