What Darlington's ambitious Northgate plans could mean for the town's future

What Darlington's ambitious Northgate plans could mean for the town's future <i>(Image: The Northern Echo)</i>
What Darlington's ambitious Northgate plans could mean for the town's future (Image: The Northern Echo)

It dominates Darlington’s skyline and stands in a prominent location many see as the gateway to the town centre, yet multiple regeneration schemes have failed to revive the high-rise building.

Northgate House is known to many throughout the town, but nowadays its mainly as the dilapidated building on the roundabout with smashed windows which is a hotspot for anti-social behaviour, including police appealing to youths to stop free running on the 131ft building’s roof.

The nine-storey building was built in 1976 and once housed government agencies but those days are long gone. Plans to transform Darlington’s tallest building into high-rise housing were scrapped last year – and questions now surround the future of the building.

Yet it is no surprise to see the building still form a central part of council plans to redevelop the Northgate area of the town.

The Northern Echo: Northgate House has become the target of anti-social behaviour
The Northern Echo: Northgate House has become the target of anti-social behaviour

Northgate House has become the target of anti-social behaviour (Image: The Northern Echo)

Plans to transform the area with dozens of new homes and flats have been devised for buildings in Gladstone Street and Kendrew Street, and it is clear the council is keen to put an end to the empty tower block looming over any new projects. The council will obtain the buildings through negotiated acquisitions with current landowners but it may be forced to use a Compulsory Purchase Order.

Darlington was allocated £22m from the Government's Towns Fund in 2020, about half of which will go to Northgate, and as the authority continually looks ahead to a brighter future for the town their ambition for Northgate is viewed as a positive one.

The Northern Echo: The former HUB club has been closed since 2012
The Northern Echo: The former HUB club has been closed since 2012

The former HUB club has been closed since 2012 (Image: The Northern Echo)

The need for the redevelopment is clear and can be seen through a quick walk just off the roundabout. The Hub, formerly known as Escapades, closed in 2012 when not even a complete overhaul by new owners could save it. Ten years on and the building’s exterior largely remains untouched with signs still up.

Takeaway vendors Zam Zam and Babylon continue to operate however, and last year’s opening of the successful Bambudda restaurant has been a boon for the business.

Much of the old Darlington Bottling Company building is still standing and its eye-catching exterior paints a picture of a bygone era – it was formed in 1900. Such is its significance that initial council drawings for the area’s improvements involve restoring the buildings arches to act as a gateway.

The Northern Echo: The 1900 Darlington Bottling Company building on Gladstone Street
The Northern Echo: The 1900 Darlington Bottling Company building on Gladstone Street

The 1900 Darlington Bottling Company building on Gladstone Street (Image: The Northern Echo)

Two car parks on Kendrew Street are often generously filled with shoppers making the short jaunt through the underpass and into the town centre but this is where new housing could be built.

Overlooking the car park is Kendrew House, which is the home of office space and the popular Viraj Restaurant. For building owner David Kenward improving the make-up of the area is much-needed.

“It would be great for Northgate, and especially our highly prominent area so close to the town centre and seen by everyone using the inner ring road, to be valued and upgraded,” he said.

“The carparks are unsightly but valuable, and with intelligent planning could retain their value without appearing to be the leftovers from a localised nuclear attack.

The Northern Echo: A drawing of how the area could look
The Northern Echo: A drawing of how the area could look

A drawing of how the area could look (Image: The Northern Echo)

The Northern Echo: Housing could be built opposite North Lodge Park
The Northern Echo: Housing could be built opposite North Lodge Park

Housing could be built opposite North Lodge Park (Image: The Northern Echo)

“Kendrew House, completely refurbished a few years ago after standing empty for some time but now with full occupancy of its eight offices and the top-rated Viraj Restaurant, would be improved with just unbroken footpath pavers - broken a couple of years ago by machinery from the council and subsequently only partially fixed after considerable urging. However, I'd like to thank council for regularly mowing the triangle of grass outside our front door.

“People are in their present locations/properties because they like them, so any change is unlikely to be viewed as an improvement due to that simple fact - even though general beautification of the area could not be other than a boost to business and property values.

“Does the council have a history of completing on plans, on time and on budget? I hope I live long enough to see the changes.”

The Northern Echo: Kendrew House is situated at the end row of buildings and in the shadow of the Northgate tower block
The Northern Echo: Kendrew House is situated at the end row of buildings and in the shadow of the Northgate tower block

Kendrew House is situated at the end row of buildings and in the shadow of the Northgate tower block (Image: The Northern Echo)

Council planners previously told of taking inspiration from the recent revamp of the Ouseburn area of Newcastle, a stone’s throw from the river Tyne. The neighbourhood’s transformation has made it the go-to spot for pubs, cafes, bakeries and art galleries with Darlington officials hoping to replicate its success.

What’s important though, according to one local councillor, is how it will benefit residents. “We want to see the ideas which are best for the residents are not just for profit. It has to be people before profit,” Northgate’s Sajna Ali has warned.

“That’s the most important thing because in Northgate people get forgotten about.”

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