DEVELOPERS have defended plans to tear down an Edwardian architectural landmark and build 400 student digs, saying a city needs the extra accommodation.

Alumno Developments says its £20m scheme to redevelop the historic former New College Durham site, in Neville’s Cross, Durham City, would meet an “overriding further demand” for student accommodation, create 160 jobs, bring millions into the economy and improve an area which has become derelict.

While the firm wants to maintain and extend the red-brick 1900s-built Neville House to form 233 bedrooms, it says saving neighbouring Sheraton House would make the project “unviable and unsustainable”, so it should be demolished to make way for a new 191-bedroom student block.

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Alumno has now filed a planning application to Durham County Council seeking consent for the major scheme and residents have until Monday, February 10, to make their views known.

Neville and Sheraton houses were built between 1908 and 1921, as a teacher training college for women.

The buildings were linked to Durham University until 1977 and then part of New College Durham until 2007, when the college moved to purpose-built facilities in Framwellgate Moor.

Since then, new townhouses have been built on the four-acre site, just off the arterial A167, but other attempts to build apartments, homes and even a swimming pool have come to nothing.

In a supporting statement, Newcastle-based planning agent Fairhursts admit residents are concerned about the traffic implications of the new plans – and that Sheraton House would be demolished – but say they have scaled back the number of bedrooms and students would be banned from taking cars on-site.

The accommodation would be managed by Derwent Living, with a manager on hand during office hours and wardens and a telephone service available round the clock.

Fairhursts say the number of full-time students at Durham University increased by 39 per cent between 2000 and 2011 and the total could hit 2,000 by 2020 and more than half of respondents to its public consultation said they would prefer students to be in dedicated accommodation.

Alumno hopes to start work on site early this year and have the accommodation ready for September 2015.

For further details or to comment, visit durham.gov.uk/planning using the reference CE/13/01667/FPA.