Regional Spotlight: Darlington
The licensed and leisure scene in Darlington has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and a huge amount of money has been ploughed into the surrounding area.
Bruce Williamson, a hotel and leisure consultant at surveyors Storeys SSP in Newcastle upon Tyne, says a key factor has been the growth of the Durham Tees Valley Airport, with regular flights from budget airlines BMI and Ryanair. This has helped to open up the area, especially on the hotels side. Darlington also has good train links, being located on the East Coast Main Line.
Another bonus for local hoteliers is that business trade from nearby Sunderland and Middlesbrough has increased in recent years, with leisure business aided by its proximity to the North Yorkshire moors. However, like Newcastle, the town is still under-bedroomed, offering good opportunities for operators, Williamson says.
On the pubs and bars side, the town has also come a long way. Williamson says that the local licensing situation used to be very strict, and "full-on licences were like gold dust", but in recent years there has been a proliferation of licences granted and a huge appetite for pub and bar businesses.
The local market is incredibly competitive, and getting a location on the main drinking circuit in the centre is key. On the plus side, like Newcastle, it is a big drinking area. While the town doesn't have Newcastle's proliferation of innovative, trendy bars, "All the usual suspects are there", says Williamson, referring to the major chains.
On the restaurant side, the market is very price-conscious. Although there is money in the area, most of it is in Newcastle, and it's hard to maintain a high-cost-per-head restaurant business, says Williamson.
Areas worth a look include the Morton Palms business park on the edge of town.