Boost for town centre

THE regeneration of a town centre has received a huge boost with plans for a new library and customer service centre.

Stockton Borough Council has approved a £2.5m scheme that will bring council investment in Billingham to more than £23m in recent years.

It follows the successful redevelopment of the Billingham Forum leisure complex, removal of the former Roundel nightclub and Forum House, and improvements still under way at John Whitehead Park.

The new library will provide a state-of-the-art facility to match similar centres in Stockton and Thornaby, which have seen a marked rise in usage, at a time when library visitors nationally have been declining.

The council is currently working on plans to develop the complex on the site of the former Billingham Art Gallery and Council Offices and is exploring options to either refurbish the existing buildings or replace them with a completely new structure.

It is also about to begin a £2.35m improvement programme for the town centre, in partnership with town centre owners Stockland.

This work will include new toilets in the West Precinct, repaving the entire central area, new seating, lighting and other improvements to the streetscape.

Paving in the market area will also be strengthened to accommodate market traders’ vehicles.

Stockland is investing further in town centre improvements and has submitted a planning application to create space for a new national leisure operator and retailer in the West Precinct.

The company will also be renovating buildings around the town square and along Queensway, while a new Poundland store will open at Easter.

Councillor Mike Smith, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said: “Billingham is flourishing at present, with 95 per cent of available retail units let and developments such as the housing at College Gardens and the new Bede College are all playing an important role in regenerating the town.

“Although we were disappointed when the Government dropped our bid for private finance for a multi-purpose facility last year, the council was determined to press ahead with as much of our plan as possible.”

Alison Robertson, asset management director of Stockland, added: “We are pleased with the current proposals. We are very keen to see real improvements taking place on the ground in Billingham and are working closely with Stockton Borough Council to complete these for the benefit of the local community.”