Plans to relocate Darlington auction mart in County Durham to an out-of-town site are due to be submitted to planners within the next few months.

If approved, the new site could be up and running by spring 2008.

Darlington Farmers Auction Mart, the group which operates the mart, has already bought 60 acres of land for the new development at Humbleton Farm, close to the A68 junction with the A1.

The project has taken the Thainstone Agricultural Centre near Aberdeen as its model.

It includes offices used by vets, consultants, machinery dealers and other businesses serving the farming community.

Thainstone also has an equine centre, as well as an exhibition and conference hall.

Traffic congestion problems caused by the current town-centre location are driving the £14m project forward, explains mart chairman, John Walton.

“Marts were historically situated close to railway stations in towns, because that was how livestock were moved around the country.

Nowadays, urban areas are not suitable places to buy and sell animals,” says Mr Walton.

Money from the sale of Bishop Auckland mart, which closed during foot-and-mouth and is now in the hands of housing developers, will provide some of the capital needed.

The Darlington site has already attracted interest from housing developers, and DFAM is also considering the project’s eligibility for a grant.

DFAM currently runs two weekly sales at Darlington, with special sales of suckler cows throughout the year.

Numbers have recovered since the F&M outbreak, with 600-plus prime cattle and about 1500 prime sheep sold every week.

The move will boost the local economy and should send out a positive message to the region’s producers, says Mr Walton.

“The fact that we are prepared to expand and invest shows our confidence in farming.

The new site will provide us with other forms of income, and allow easier road access for our customers.”

wendy@sykehall.freeserve.co.uk