Construction work has started on an £8million innovation centre at Central Park in Darlington.

Innovation Central will provide office space and laboratories and will support economic growth and job creation while increasing the competitiveness of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Darlington Borough Council has secured funding for the four-storey site with £4.7m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), £2.8m from the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority, £480,000 from the government’s Getting Building fund, as well as £60,000 council funding.

Construction work by contractors Willmott Dixon is due to be complete in August 2022.

The building will be operated by North East Business & Innovation Centre (BIC) which runs the existing Business Central office space on Central Park.

Council leader Heather Scott said: “We have begun the exciting work of creating a modern and flexible workplace which will help businesses collaborate, innovate and grow. Our investment into this centre will increase opportunities for local businesses, create quality jobs and generate the momentum needed to help the local economy bounce back from the impacts of this pandemic.

“It is a chance for Darlington to focus on entrepreneurship and business growth, and the centre is a fantastic opportunity for new and existing businesses looking for the combination of lab and office space which will sit well alongside the existing CPI Biologics and Teesside University Horizons buildings.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “I’m delighted that spades are now in the ground to make this new facility a reality, adding even more value to Central Park and Darlington, a town increasingly hitting the headlines.

“CPI, Teesside University and its National Horizons Centre are already delivering world-leading research and innovation, helping us punch above our weight in the biosciences sector and make our mark locally, nationally and internationally.

“This new space will deliver even more scope for growth in that sector, and many more, in turn creating more good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people which – as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic – is more important than ever.”

Paul McEldon, CEO at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) Ltd, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this exciting project and together with the council and all the partners, we’re committed to developing a centre that will not only accommodate and support businesses but drive growth through innovation. Since 1994, the BIC has helped to create over 7,000 jobs across the North East region. As the operator for Innovation Central we will continue to build on this achievement and support the development of many more businesses and jobs in Darlington.”

Anthony Dillon, managing director for Willmott Dixon in the North, said: “We are delighted to build upon our long-standing relationships in the Tees Valley to deliver the Innovation Central building for Darlington Borough Council.

“Once complete, the building will be at the forefront of technological advancement in the area, helping to create new jobs and boost the local economy, we are proud to play our part in making this possible.”