St Peter's, in Gainford.
St Peter's, in Gainford.

THE end of a vandal-hit blight is near after planners approved a major housing development in a dale village.

Durham County Council’s south-west planning committee unanimously approved proposals to build 57 homes on the former St Peter’s School site, in Gainford. The meeting heard how the authority was confident the scheme would come to fruition, unlike other plans for St Peter’s had in the past.

Planning officers and the committee’s chairman, Cllr John Clare, welcomed moves to save the “imposing” and “beautiful” frontage of the building by turning it into flats.

However, Teesdale councillor George Richardson said he and many locals would rather see it torn down completely to make way for homes. He said: “Finally we are seeing this development. It has been talked about for 30 years. I was one who would have favoured the demolition of the whole shooting match but I’m grateful to see it developed.”

Cllr Clare, who represents Aycliffe North, replied: “I disagree. When anyone like me drives into Gainford, that’s the first thing I see. It’s distinctive, imposing and beautiful. The fact that the front will be retained is a considerable advantage.”

Built in 1899, St Peter’s School was initially an orphanage and then became a residential school until it closed in 1983. In 1986, it became a nursing home but this closed in 1998.

The site, which includes extensive grounds, has been left to rot and has attracted anti-social behaviour.

Kebbell Development owns part of the site with some of the land owned by Ruttle Developments. The two firms have been unable to come to an agreement on joint plans.

However, Ruttle was given the green light in 2015 to convert the main section of the building into six apartments and demolish another section for ten homes. This came before one of the wings was deliberately set alight in 2016 which meant that part of the building had to be demolished. These plans have not materialised.

Meanwhile, Kebbell’s proposal for 57 homes and a large park went before the committee last Thursday. There will be a mix of properties including 16 two-bed, 23 three-bed and nine four-bed homes including bungalows and affordable properties. Nine flats will be created in the frontage of St Peter’s. Tim Burnham, senior planning office, who had recommended the plan for approval, told councillors: “We are positive that this will get off the ground.”

He said there were no objections from consultees and only two letters sent– one of was concerned about the plan setting a precedent for development in open spaces. Mr Burnham said this wasn’t the case because the site was different to the surrounding fields.

“There are significant encominic and social benefits from building 57 homes. This has been a problem site for a long time,” he added.

He said 11 homes would be classed as affordable and run by a housing association. Other buildings at the site, including the old gym, would be demolished. A large area of public open space would be created to include woodland, wildflowers, meadows and grassland.

Ian Lyle, from agent ELG Planning on behalf of the developers, said: “It will attract young families trying to remain in the village and older residents wanting to downsize, as well as giving an opportunity for families wanting to move into the village.”

Mr Lyle said a major public consultation was held in Gainford with overwhelming public support.

He added: “In over 30 years of planning experience, it was probably the most one-sided consultation I have ever known. This will address the issue of it being a blight for so many years.”

Following the vote approving the scheme, Mr Lyle said talks would continue with Ruttle about the remainder of the site. He was unable to say when work would start on Kebbell’s land.