The regeneration of a County Durham town has received a boost after submission of plans to develop a new multi-million pound retail, residential or hotel complex.

The move sees planning applications to convert the ground and upper floors of the Grade II listed former Beales department store on Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland, which has been vacant for more than two years.

The historic building on Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland was originally owned by the Co-Op in the 1870s but has until 2017 been home to Beales.

The project sits within the heart of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone, which was established to revitalise the historic market town and to help regenerate it as a vibrant place for local people, businesses and visitors.

The town is going through a five-year programme to reinvigorate the market place and high street along with other parts of the conservation area, including Auckland Castle and its park. The former Beales Store is an attractive building and a key heritage asset on the high street.

The plans submitted to Durham County Council’s planning committee could involve part of the rear of the existing building being demolished to improve the site’s overall functionality, while the existing façade will benefit from restoration work to enhance its overall appearance.

The move is the latest chapter in the site’s long history and would herald an exciting new phase in the town centre’s regeneration, said Sean Hedley, managing director at Hedley Planning Services.

He added that a key feature of the consents would be to allow flexibility around final use of the space if the plans receive the green light from the council in October 2019.

“With the site being Grade II-listed within a conservation area, there are always challenges to overcome and it will be up to the market to decide the ultimate development scheme,” Sean Hedley said.

“As planners, we want to see the creation of exciting, aspirational and rewarding schemes that leave a long-lasting legacy delivering conservation and regeneration benefits.

“This project will undoubtedly see a positive change to this important site, ensuring social and economic benefits chime well with the overall regeneration of Bishop Auckland’s town centre.”