PLANS to develop land at an abandoned former orphanage have suffered another setback.

Proposals were agreed in 2019 to convert the ex-St Peter’s School site, in Gainford, County Durham, into homes, with further properties built on the wider site.

Now, following the failure of different land owners to settle on a scheme, an alternative application for permission to start building work has also been knocked back.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Steven Longstaff, a director at ELG Planning, a consultancy, said: “Since the [previous] approval, Kebbell Homes has tried very hard to agree a deal with the other land owner that would allow the site to be developed on a comprehensive basis.

“However, these discussions have not borne fruit and Kebbell Homes’s solution has been to seek a stand alone solution for their part of the site, in the hope that bringing our site forward would encourage the other land owner back to the negotiating table.

“While this is not an ideal solution, we hope [decision makers] will appreciate the difficult situation the developer is in.”

Mr Longstaff, who claimed two separate schemes could be ‘independent [of] and complementary’ to each other, was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Area Planning Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

St Peter’s Orphanage for Roman Catholic Boys opened in Main Road in 1900, with space for as many as 30 children aged up to ten.

The school closed in the 1980s and after a short stint in which it was partly converted to a nursing home has been vacant since the 1990s.

Over recent years there have been several attempts to redevelop the site, which has also been hit by numerous fires, the most recent of which was in July (2020).

Recommending the panel refuse the application, county planning officer Steven Pilkington told the committee: “Without the cross-benefit of market housing, there is not really a realistic prospect of securing the redevelopment of the principal building and that in itself is not an effective use of land.”

Cllr George Richardson, whose Barnard Castle East ward includes Gainford, called the site a ‘millstone around our necks’.

The panel voted unanimously to refuse the application.