PLANS to move a special school from a listed country mansion to a £6m development have been given the go-ahead by county planning chiefs.

The proposals to relocate Windlestone Hall School, near Rushyford, County Durham, to a site on the outskirts of nearby Chilton have been approved by Durham County Council.

The plans will now go before the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for final approval because the site allocated for the development is classed as greenbelt land.

Councillors are confident it will back the plan, partly because the land has been used for agriculture and the new school will include a farm for rural science lessons.

Durham County Council wants to move the school, which caters for children with special emotional or behavioural needs, out of the hall because it is unsuitable for modern teaching.

The building and park, once the family home of 1950s Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, have become a huge financial burden, costing £60,000 in maintenance and £30,000 to heat last year alone.

The new school, near Blue House Farm, will offer 60 places with ensuite facilities for up to 20 residential pupils.

It will include technology suites, a gymnasium and all-weather sports pitch, which the present school does not have.

Headteacher Peter Johnson is thrilled at the prospect of moving because he believes the new surroundings will give youngsters the top quality education they deserve.

Councillor Porter, chairman of the school governors, said: "It is just so exciting for the school to be a step closer to getting its own purpose-built facilities.

"The school will not only be good for the pupils but I think the community as well, local groups will be able to use the facilities."

Some residents of the Dean Bridge area, which borders the site, objected to the move, fearing youngsters would be disruptive.

But Coun Porter said that there was no greater risk of problems in Chilton as pupils are all transported to and from school in private transport and there will be a high number of staff to supervise the children.

If the plans are approved, the new school could be open by September next year.