THE MULTI-million pound redevelopment of a long-standing agricultural college has taken a major step forward, after councillors backed the plans.

In January, bosses at Houghall, near Durham City, announced £30m proposals to build a new animal care centre, cattle shed, including pens for 80 cows, sheep shed with pens for 266 sheep, large pig shed, potting shed and floristry store, kennels, dog agility unit, an aviary, equine centre with 36 stables and an improved entrance and reception area.

On Tuesday, Durham County Council’s county planning committee unanimously granted planning permission for the scheme.

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Afterwards, Suzanne Duncan, principal of Houghall owners East Durham College, said she was delighted and thrilled at the decision.

The development depends on Houghall landing a £10m grant from the Skills Funding Agency.

However, Mrs Duncan said planning permission being granted gave the college a “much greater chance” of securing this funding.

Houghall, which was established in 1920, is the only agricultural college in County Durham and is enjoying a resurgence, with the number of students studying land-based courses expected to reach 1,100 by September 2015.

Mrs Duncan said the redevelopment would create 100 new jobs and safeguard another 100 and bring a £60m economic boost.

During Tuesday’s debate, Councillor Bill Moir said Houghall was very dear to many people in the city and county and councillors should give “great weight” to educational opportunities.

Coun Carl Marshall said the redevelopment had “overwhelming economic benefits”.

Resident Paul Tomlinson and local councillor David Stoker raised concerns the size of the proposed equine centre and over more traffic using the single-track Farm Lane to reach Houghall Farm.

Coun Grenville Holland sympathised, saying the lane was “completely inadequate” for horseboxes of any sort of number.

Mrs Duncan said horseboxes already used the lane, but agreed to a limit of 15 per day.

She said the development was firstly for educational purposes, although the new facilities may also be used to generate extra commercial income.

Council planning officer Anne Rawlinson said the college had demonstrated the very special circumstances necessary to allow development in what is a greenbelt area.