A CHARITY says it can now look to the future after being granted outline planning permission to knock down its premises to make way for housing.

Finchale, which helps veterans and disadvantaged people, hopes to move off its current home in Newton Hall, Durham, to a smaller facility.

The charity says it needs to sell the land, which is part of the green belt, and build up to 93 houses to secure its financial future.

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Objections were made by the City of Durham Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of Durham Greenbelt and two residents.

Bill McGawley, chairman of Finchale’s trustees, said: “The reality is four years ago the revenue was over £4m and now its around £1m.

“We went into a trading loss three years ago and it’s been living on its reserves.

“As responsible trustees that’s not something we’ve been happy with.

“There’s no doubt by 2018 we will be in the situation where we are running out of funds.”

He added: “This is a really important business and it’s a very sustainable one - but not at the level of the past.

“We need to move into something that’s the right size and has the right facilities.”

John Ashby, from the Friends of Durham Greenbelt, raised questions over whether the charity’s need was an “exceptional circumstance” which would justify green belt development.

He said: “If the bar is lowered to considerations of how much the applicant needs money, it is cutting the legs of planning.”

Cllr Patrick Conway said: “I want to see the charity continue in this desperately difficult world, not least because I had many conversations with the late Dick Annand VC, who was involved in Finchale and was quite desperate to make sure the charity did have a sustainable future because he recognised the work it was doing was needed in the future.”

Finchale plans to retain its 21-strong staff and agreed to a condition making sure it relocates within County Durham.

Chief executive Mel Pears said: “It allows us to safeguard the future of Finchale as a charity and presents us with growth opportunities to strength our position as a specialist provider of employment progression services for disadvantaged people.

“Our board will now be considering the implications of the decision and we will review our options before taking next steps - including the whether to sell the entire Finchale site, part of the site, or some of our land.”