A developer has said a county council should "take the win" of a barn conversion which he says is a state-of-the-art asset to County Durham.

Malcolm Wass asked for permission to convert a lambing shed to a home with engineering works to create three ponds, a new footpath and access road, a lower ground floor, ground source heat pumps and sewage treatment plant.

He said he wanted to provide a home for his daughter which would be "a showcase of energy efficiency, green energy and nature conservation" in "a haven for wildlife".

But Durham County Council officers have recommended the scheme should be refused planning permission.

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Much of the plan is "retrospective" as works have already started on the project, but stopped after an investigation by the planning enforcement team, according to a council report.

Mr Wass maintained he did not think he needed planning permission to install the renewable energy heating system, build ponds and widen the watercourse.

He said in a statement: "I started the development to provide a home for my daughter and her disabled partner and I wanted her to have a green and energy efficient building that was proof against the looming energy crisis.

"At every stage I have taken specialist advice to make this a state-of-the-art fully sustainable development.

"I decided to install a ground source heating system and sought specialist engineering advice from world-renowned companies on how best to do it.

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"I wanted the finished site to look as natural and undisturbed as possible and for it to be a haven for wildlife.

"I sought specialist architectural and engineering advice on all of the engineering aspects for the basement construction, but omitted planning. Being underground I considered it would not cause any problems to anyone.

"I regret not asking the planning department for their advice but would stress that if allowed to continue with the development, the barn will look exactly like the conversion that was approved by the council twice.

"All of the cars and other domestic paraphernalia would be hidden away underground, leaving a cleaner and greener site than would otherwise have been the case.

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"Councillors will appreciate that I have spent many tens of thousands of pounds in construction work.

"I think this project could be an asset to County Durham as a showcase of energy efficiency, green energy and nature conservation best practice.

"Any rational outside person would say 'take the win'. I hope members can see the benefits to the countryside and the county of 'taking the win'."

Neither members of the public nor Greater Willington Parish Council responded to the plan.

The council originally granted permission to convert the agricultural building near Stockley Lane, Oakenshaw, Crook to a home in 2019, but fresh permission is needed for the works.

Council officers said the work done "significantly departed" from the allowed plan "by undertaking substantial engineering and building work which has and would amount to a rebuild".

The site is in an "area of high landscape value", and planning officers said the proposal did "conserve the special qualities" of that area.

But they recommended the plan should be refused, saying the building would "appear as a negative feature in the rural landscape".

They concluded: "The building is not considered suitable for conversion as it does not already make a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the area and would not result in an enhancement of the building's immediate setting.

"A substantial or complete rebuild would also be required resulting in the formation of an isolated new dwelling in the countryside."

The decision on whether or not to grant planning permission will be made by councillors in a planning committee meeting on Thursday (September 22).

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