THE former Woolworths store in Darlington town centre is to be occupied by one of the high street’s biggest retail names.

The clothing and home goods company Next will combine the two stores it already runs in Northgate and move into the larger premises which form part of the Cornmill shopping centre.

The former Woolworths store has been empty since December last year following the collapse of that company.

Next says an extensive refit will be carried out in the coming months before the premises reopen for business in the early summer.

A spokeswoman said staff from the two stores in the town would all move to the new premises.

Though it was too early to confirm, more jobs may result from the move.

One of the Northgate shops sells adult clothing and the other retials children’s goods.

The new store will combine clothing ranges for men, women and children, as well as home furnishings.

A spokeswoman said: “We will not be moving into these premises until early summer due to extensive work being carried out on the building.”

Woolworths occupied the site for nearly 85 years. The company went into liquidation last year and the store has stood empty ever since.

Christine Kavanagh, town centre manager, said: “This is an exciting move for Next because it brings all of the Next ranges under one roof, which is obviously better for the shopper, too.

“We are lucky in Darlington that premier retail space is sought-after and therefore the gap that will be left by Next moving from where they are at the moment in the town centre will be snapped up.

“So who knows? We might end up with some more big name stores in our town centre as a result of this move by Next, which will broaden the range of shops we have, bringing even more people to Darlington.”

John Coxon, chairman of Darlington Town Centre Traders’ Association, said: “I think it’s great news.

That site has been a bit of an eyesore together with the poor old King’s Head (following its devastating fire).

“It’s a great statement of confidence in Darlington.”