COUNCILLORS are backing plans to extend a hotel in Green Belt land because it is likely to bring economic benefits.

The north area planning committee of Durham County Council has said it is “minded’’ to approve the scheme at Plawsworth, near Chester-le-Street.

Because of the sensitivity of the location, the Secretary of State will be asked to ratify the decision or “call it in” for a public inquiry.

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Farmer Harry Johnson diversified into providing accommodation at Plawsworth Hall Farm, Wheatley Well Lane, about 20 years ago.

The business has proved a success with holidaymakers and longer-staying guests in the area working on contracts with local firms.

He wants to extend the “apart hotel” , which offers serviced cottages and apartments, with 31 new units on land in the Green Belt and fringing the small village’s conservation area.

Councillors heard that Green Belt development can only be justified if there are special circumstances.

Senior Planning Officer Steve France said Business Durham supported the development, because it believed the accommodation was needed in the area.

He also told councillors that the extension would provide two extra jobs directly and 25 indirectly with construction firms and local suppliers. The scheme had been designed to blend with its surrounding and had an “agricultural feel” to the building elevations facing the road while internal courtyards had a more contemporary design.

Mr Johnson told the committee that one guest, Durham cricketer Herschelle Gibbs had said: “It is so nice not to be stuck in just another hotel.”

Councillors were told that North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones supported the development but Kimblesworth and Plawsworth Parish Council objected to it.

The parish council fears the extension will change the character of the village and its community spirit and lead to an increase in traffic.

Some villagers are concerned that it has a large enough “transient” population with The Fells homeless hostel run by the Cyrenians on the other side of A167.

Councillor Peter Brookes said he supported the scheme because he felt it would bring benefits to the area.

Committee chairman Carl Marshall said it was the ideal location for providing a tourism boost in the north of County Durham.