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Regional daily’s office move hit by delays

Plans for a regional daily to move to new offices so its base can be turned into a Debenhams store have stalled and now look unlikely to go ahead.

The Northern Echo’s headquarters at Priestgate in Darlington, where it has been based more than 140 years, were due to become a Debenhams department store under plans to expand the neighbouring Cornmill shopping centre.

The Echo agreed terms more than two years ago to sell its 40,000sq ft building to Moorfield Developments, which owns the centre, and the developers had been in talks to bring Debenhams to the site.

But Debenhams has now said it has no immediate plans to move into the town, meaning the Echo looks set to remain at its current building at present.

An artist's impression shows how The Northern Echo's offices could look as a Debenhams store.

Editor Peter Barron said: “Our position is that we are waiting for clarification from the developers and until then, we carry on as normal.

“Whatever happens with the Priestgate building, there’s no doubt that we will continue to retain a presence in the town centre.

“This building is no longer fit for purpose for us – it is too big.”

The developers are now understood to be exploring new options for the site after it emerged last week that Debenhams was unlikely to move to the Echo’s building, which came after the company posted a 2.7pc drop in pre-tax profits.

Darlington Borough Council was keen for the retailer to come to the town and agreed to make a £3m loan to the developers to help attract Debenhams.

Paul Wildsmith, the council’s director of resources, told the paper that no money would change hands until a deal was agreed but said this appeared to be “fading into oblivion”.

He said: “We made an offer to Moorfield, to help attract Debenhams, and it is still on the table, but has not been progressed. It does not look like it is going to happen in the short-term.”

The Northern Echo has been based at the Priestgate site since 1869 and the building includes space where a printing press was previously located.

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  • October 29, 2013 at 7:53 am

    This is less about the recession and more about the death of town centres, with the combined effect of the internet and years of government allowing the unfettered growth of out-of-town shopping.

    The timescale is interesting: Debenhams has realised in the last two years that it is not worth it opening new, central stores.

    So what will town centres be used for now? Homes, entertainment, leisure, small traders … but major retail? That’s history, at least until we have another major social change, perhaps forced by an energy/fuel crisis.

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