A regional daily’s home for more than a century could be transformed into an apartment block if plans to sell the building go through.
Permission is being sought to transform the Northern Echo’s Darlington offices, where the paper has been based since 1917, into 52 residential flats.
The town centre building at Priestgate has been on the market for several years, but a report on the Echo’s website states property developers Xusa have now expressed an interest in it, with negotiations are ongoing over its sale.
Should the deal go through, the Echo’s staff will be moved to what bosses described as “accommodation more befitting a modern digital marketing services business.”
An application has been submitted to Darlington Borough Council’s planning department on behalf of the developer seeking permission for a change of its use, should Priestgate change hands.
The application suggests that the four-storey building could eventually become a residential development housing 52 one and two bedroom apartments on the second, third and fourth floors, while the ground floor would be given over to retail space if the plans get the green light.
A memorial to the Northern Echo workers who lost their lives during the First World War will remain undisturbed by the redevelopment proposals contained within the application.
The Echo story makes clear that the sale of the building would have to be completed and more detailed planning permissions sought before the ambitious development could progress.
David Coates, regional managing director of Echo publisher Newsquest Yorkshire and North-East, said: “While we are very supportive of the planning application, the Northern Echo building has not yet been sold.
“We’ve been here before and were disappointed when the proposed sale fell through. Hopefully this time we will see it through to completion and we’ll be able to move into accommodation that’s more befitting a modern digital marketing services business.”
The Priestgate building was all set to become a Debenhams store back in 2013 as part of a plan to expand the neighbouring Cornmill shopping centre.
Newsquest agreed terms to sell the building to Moorfield Developments, which owns the centre, but the scheme fell through after the retailer went cold on the deal.
The National Union of Journalists has described the potential sale as “understandable” but criticised David for his choice of words.
Chris Morley, the NUJ’s regional organiser for the North of England, said: “Clearly it is very sad that a once great newspaper building – with such a tremendous history – is faced with this but the reality of the situation after a decade of relentless cuts makes it perhaps understandable.
“However, what my members cannot understand is that the managing director talks about his business only as a ‘modern digital marketing services business’.
“I think this perhaps sums up where Newsquest and the major media companies have gone wrong – senior managers wish they were in a different industry and have little affinity for journalism as their business’s bedrock.”