Plans for a new multi-million pound retail, residential or hotel complex that will boost the regeneration of Bishop Auckland in County Durham have been approved.

The green light has been given to allow the conversion of the ground and upper floors of the Grade II listed former Beales department store on Newgate Street, which has been vacant for over two years. The building 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 move is part of 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.

Redevelopment will see part of the rear of the existing building demolished to improve the site’s overall functionality, while the existing façade is set to benefit from restoration work to enhance its overall appearance.

Welcoming Durham CountyCouncil’s decision, Sean Hedley, managing director at Hedley Planning Services, who has steered the plans through to approval, said the move ushers in a new phase in the town centre’s regeneration.

“A key feature of the consents was to allow flexibility around final use, so we’re delighted that our plans can now be completed.

“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.”

“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.