A VICTORIAN-built former mental health hospital has been sold to a trio of property developers, amid claims it will be turned into plush apartments.

The County Hospital, in Durham, housed inpatient services for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust until January 2010, when it was replaced by the purpose-built £17.9m Lanchester Road Hospital, on the outskirts of the city.

The landmark building had been up for sale for some time but a deal has now been reached, for an undisclosed fee, with property developers Peveril Securities, Sladen Estates and Helios Real Estate.

Sandra Manson, director of Newcastle-based Signet Planning – which is acting as planning advisor for the project, said it was at a very early stage in terms of assessing the development opportunities.

The hospital, built by donations and public subscription in 1853, includes some listed buildings, is in a conservation area and is near the Flass Vale nature reserve.

Last year, the Friends of Flass Vale called on Durham County Council to take an overall view of the area to avoid the reserve being undermined by piecemeal development.

There are already plans approved to build 220 student flats on nearby Ainsley Street and an exclusive housing estate on the former Arriva bus depot, on Waddington Street.

Mrs Manson said the developers were “very mindful” of the heritage and landscape of the site, plus its proximity to Durham’s World Heritage Site, and these factors would be integral in bringing forward development proposals.

The firms want to engage with the local community, the council and other relevant parties, she added, and people living nearby could expect to receive an initial letter within the next few days.

Detailed consultation is expected to take place over the next few months.

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust provides mental health, learning disability, eating disorders and substance misuse services across County Durham, Darlington, Teesside and North Yorkshire.

A spokeswoman said contracts were exchanged on the sale of the County Hospital on Monday, April 8.