The regeneration of Billingham has received a huge boost with the news that the town is to have a new library and customer service centre.
As part of its budget commitment for the coming year, agreed last night, Stockton Council has allocated funding to develop the new facility, to be modelled on similar successful centres already opened in Thornaby and Stockton.
The £2.5 million scheme will bring Council investment in Billingham to more than £23 million in recent years and follows the successful redevelopment of the Forum leisure complex, removal of the former Roundel nightclub and Forum House, and improvements still under way at John Whitehead Park. Development of new housing has also boosted the town centre.
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 up 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. Over the coming months it will carry out a consultation on the plans to seek local views on the delivery of services in Billingham.
The Council still hopes to work with the NHS to include a health facility in the centre.
Construction work is likely to begin in 2013.
The Council is also about to begin a £2.35 million improvement programme for the town centre, in partnership with the owners of the town centre, Stockland Plc. 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 Plc 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, Stockton Council's Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport, said: "This is tremendous news for Billingham and honours the Council's commitment to create such a facility in the town.
"The service centres have been hugely successful and popular elsewhere in the Borough and also help attract many people to go into the town centres.
"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 Plc, 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 Council to complete these for the benefit of the local community."