MULTI-million pound proposals to transform a former mental hospital into digs for 440 students have been filed to planners.

A consortium first announced its intentions for the former County Hospital, off North Road, Durham City, last summer.

Now a formal planning application has been lodged with Durham County Council, seeking consent for accommodation for 440 university students, mostly post-graduates.

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The 1850s-built main hospital building would be retained and converted into 47 studios, while a 1930s extension would be demolished.

A new block in what is currently an internal courtyard would include 26 studios.

But the major new development would be seven-level structure with 367 bedrooms and a student hub.

The project, backed by Peveril Securities, Sladen Estates and Helios Properties, would cost around £17m, take 18 months to complete and create an estimated 177 full-time equivalent jobs.

In a supporting planning statement, London-based agents Savills say the scheme would tackle a shortfall in student accommodation identified by Durham University, remove “unsympathetic additions” to the original Victorian building and replace them with a “well-designed and co-ordinated extension”.

Close to Durham’s railway and bus stations, the development would be accessible and so there would be “limited on-site vehicle parking”, they say, plus storage space for bicycles.

The document says there are no listed buildings involved, although the site is within the Durham conservation area.

Councillors will have the final word on whether planning permission is granted, as it has been ruled that the application must go before a committee.

That is expected to happen in the next few months.

Friends of Flass Vale have called on the council to take an overall view of the area to prevent the nature reserve being undermined by piecemeal development.

Project advisors Signet Planning previously said they were “very mindful” of the heritage and landscape of the site.

Built by donations and public subscription in 1853, the County Hospital housed inpatient services for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust until January 2010, when it was replaced by the purpose-built £17.9m Lanchester Road Hospital, on the outskirts of the city.

More information can be found via the online planning portal at durham.gov.uk, using the reference CE/13/01696/FPA.

Members of the public have until Wednesday, February 5, to make comments.