THE approval of plans for 46 homes in a north Durham town could, on the face of it, be the start of just another of many growing estates in the Derwentside district.

But, as building begins at Genesis Way, Consett, it will mark a milestone in the development of the former Consett Steelworks site.

The plans will see the demolition of the last remaining steelworks building on the site - the former generator now known as Generation House.

Seen by community leaders as a vote of confidence in the area, the new George Wimpey buildings form part of a wider patchwork of development which has breathed new life into the steelworks site.

Derwentside District Council leader Councillor Alex Watson said: "We had earmarked land for just over 500 houses on the site and really we have now reached that target, with the latest development bringing the total up to 457 homes."

It was all a different story in 1981, when the whole district was devastated by the closure of the steelworks, with the loss of up to 9,000 jobs. What followed was an exodus of up to 20,000 people from the district.

The steelworks were demolished over the next three years, and for ten years the council harboured all sorts of ambitions for the area.

Coun Watson said: "During that incubation period, we looked for partners to get things moving with the private sector.

"We found that to access grants, we would have to set up a charitable trust."

The council teamed up with Dysart, the company behind the Newcastle Business Park - which had attracted £150m-worth of investment and 4,500 jobs.

It led to the launch in 1993 of Project Genesis, with a design brief for an area of around 700 acres.

Coun Watson said: "What we were looking for was a plan which was sustainable, and which took the environment into account.

"After the pollution of the steel works, with its red clouds of dust, we wanted something different, and it has become the first truly green development - and the biggest in Europe at that."

The steelworks left its legacy of contaminants and the Genesis project had been given £9.6m to reclaim the site. Removing the slagheaps was not possible, so housing has been kept to the periphery of the site - enjoying views over the Derwent Valley.

Among the housing developments which have already been built have been 50 homes at Phoenix Court, Blackhill, 77 homes by Miller Homes at Hall Cottages, and 20 homes by Northern Housing Association in Victoria Street, Berry Edge, Consett.

In August 2003, Barratt started building 125 executive homes in Berry Edge, Consett. The company, working with civil engineering contractor and consultants Hellens Contracts and White Young Green, spent £1.8m decontaminating the site.

But the company angered residents when it sent in contractors to cut up a giant crucible used in the smelting process that had stood on the site for more than 120 years.

It looked into hiring a crane to move it but found it would cost about £220,000 so instead it agreed to clean and mount the remaining, smaller crucible at a cost of more than £20,000.

Project Genesis has now secured permission for 79 high-quality properties on land south-west of Knitsley Gardens, Templetown.

This development had come under fire from residents, whose recreation area was to be replaced by one half the size. Workers are due to move onto the site mid-May.

The Wimpey development, while on the former site, is not part of Genesis.

Apart from the housing, there has been a range of other developments, including the new Derwentside College, Steel House, McDonald's Restaurant and International Cuisine - bringing 500 jobs.

Several factories have also sprung up on the periphery.

Only two weeks ago, work began on the Innovation Centre, built for the Derwentside Industrial Development Agency, at Pond's Court.

There are also plans on the drawing board for a £14m wet and dry sports centre, a hotel complex and an Italian restaurant.

Project Genesis managing director Morris Muter said: "While progress may seem to have been slow, much has been achieved to date.

"And we now have renewed interest from various quarters which would allow new initiatives which we are working on to come to fruition."