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Business People Support ‘I’m Backing Darlington’ Campaign

Business leaders have united to help preserve the viability of Darlington town centre following news that flagship stores Binns and Marks & Spencer are to close.

They produced several ideas during a Question Time-style meeting at the Bannatyne Hotel chaired by Graham Robb, owner of Recognition PR .

He introduced a panel made up of Anne Elliott, CEO of Latimer Hinks Solicitor, Tim Catterall, property specialist and director of Catterall & Co, retail specialist Sean Bullick, former CEO of Newcastle’s Business Improvement District, NE1 and Tori Gill, marketing specialist from tgi MEDIA.

Suggestions made by the panel and the audience included: Introducing universal free parking across the town; Reducing the size of the town centre; creating a town centre development company with planning oversight and introducing Anti-Social Behaviour and Youth Engagement teams

Dynamic promotion of Darlington as the birthplace of railways in the run up to the 2025 anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Graham Robb , who is also Deputy Chair of the Entrepreneurs Forum and an Associate Member of Tees Valley LEP, said: “I’ve been in business in Darlington for 30 years and I’m deeply committed to the town so it has been very encouraging to see so many people coming forward with their interesting and creative ideas.”

Anne Elliott said: “Latimer Hinks has been based in Darlington for more than a century, and I have been dismayed to see the town’s decline over the past few years. It was heartening to see so many people taking a stand and fighting to improve our town.”

Tim Catterall told the meeting that the town could benefit from a radical review of sites identified for regeneration.

“I would like to see a decent urban environment and more life 24/7 in the town centre so I would seriously look at providing more inner city homes.”

The audience identified a number of issues and produced a list of ideas to counter the retail decline and ensure the town centre remains vibrant and attractive to both residents and visitors.

A number of people said the town had been hit by the move to online shopping and development of out-of-town retail parks but it had also been affected by a lack of free parking, fewer independent shops, planning issues, anti-social behaviour and a generally uninspiring and dirty town centre.

Graham Robb raised the idea of replicating the successful Grainger Town regeneration initiative in Newcastle by creating a development company in the town to spearhead initiatives.