PLANS to extend a hotel could get the go-ahead despite the site being in the Green Belt.

Durham County Council’s north area planning committee will consider next Thursday (March 27) proposals to build 31 accommodation units at Plawsworth Hall Farm, Wheatley Well Lane, Plawsworth, near Chester-le-Street, which is also in a conservation area.

Because of the location, the Secretary of State could call in the plan for a decision so councilors are being recommended to be “minded” to approve it.

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The “apart hotel”, which features separate cottages and apartments, has been running for years and serves contracting companies, business guests and holidaymakers.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones is backing the scheme but there are local objectors including local councilors.

Senior Planning Officer Steve France says in a report that Mr Jones has commented that applicant Harry Johnson has “worked hard to establish a good reputation for Plawsworth Hall and has developed strong links with organisations such as Nissan and Durham County Cricket Club.

“As a successful business in his constituency, the Member of Parliament is happy to support the application.”

Local councilors withdrew their initial support after canvassing residents’ views.

Their fears include that it would set a precedent for other developments and a feeling that the scheme will change the“fundamental nature of the village”.

There are also fears the development will lead to an increase in traffic and an “over-population” of holiday/hotel accommodation in the area.

Applicant Mr Johnson says that the site is the only viable place for expansion and that going elsewhere would effectively be setting up a “completely independent business”.

Councillors will be told that Business Durham backs the plan and believes it will bring economic benefits to the wider area.

Mr France says: “To approve the scheme members must be convinced that the development can only happen in this location, and that the economic benefits set out as ‘very special circumstances’ are such that they outweigh the principle of the Green Belt protection.”