MAJOR plans for a former landmark store in Bishop Auckland have been given the green light by councillors.

The Grade II listed former Beales department store, on Newgate Street, closed its doors more than two years ago. Although the company confirmed it was in talks with Durham County Council last year to potentially reopen, the plans fell through.

Following a council decision this week, the towering building is set to be revamped as either a hotel or apartments. The South and West area planning committee approved two planning applications for the upper floors of the building.

This includes a 27-apartment complex or a 62-bedroom hotel with developers exploring market interest before pressing ahead with a single option.

Regardless of the final decision, the ground floor of the building will be allocated as "mixed use commercial space" to house shops or a restaurant/cafe.

Cllr Joy Allen, cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism on the council, said there was a demand for a hotel use to meet expected visitor numbers.

This includes tourism linked to area's art galleries, historical attractions, Kynren and the expected reopening of Auckland Castle. Cllr Allen, also a division councillor for Bishop Auckland, added apartments would have a negative impact on efforts to regenerate the town and high street.

“This particular proposal doesn’t provide the same economic, social or environmental opportunities as the developer’s other application,” she told the meeting at Durham County Hall.

“Although planning permission may be given I would urge the developers to speak with local members as a matter of urgency to ensure, wherever possible, that we focus on the opportunities of the (hotel) application which will not only benefit Bishop Auckland but County Durham as a whole.”

At the meeting, some councillors expressed a preference for the hotel plans while others welcomed the redevelopment of the building as a whole. Other talking points included potential parking and highways issues from increased residents or visitors.

Planning officers said no objections to either plan had been received from highways and noted the availability of parking and public transport in the town. Cllr Fraser Tinsley also raised concerns about the applicant submitting planning applications for both hotel and apartment uses.

“It’s a bit like holding a revolver to our heads if you’re doing that,” he said. “I don’t see why they couldn’t have applied for the hotel, marketed it and if it wasn’t successful, come back with residential.”

Councillors were told there were not strong enough legal grounds to reject one application in favour of another. The hotel plans were approved unanimously while the apartment plans were carried by a majority vote.