PLANS to move a school from a secluded 19th Century hall to a new £6m building are expected to go before councillors within weeks.

Durham County Council hopes to relocate Windlestone Hall School, near Rushyford, to a site on the outskirts of Chilton.

The authority says the listed country mansion, once the family home of 1950s Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, is unsuitable for modern teaching.

It wants to replace it with a 60-place school near Chilton Blue House Farm, with en-suite facilities for up to 20 residential youngsters. A farm that pupils use for rural science lessons would be recreated on the proposed site.

Headteacher Peter Johnson said: "We do need a new building.

"The hall is very expensive to maintain. Last year, we spent £60,000 on basic repairs and maintenance and £30,000 heating the building. That cannot really be justified.

"A modern building could provide bigger classrooms, an indoor gymnasium for different PE activities and computer access in all rooms."

But the proposal has been met with resistance from some residents of Chilton.

They are worried that pupils, who all have special emotional or behavioural needs, would cause anti-social behaviour in the town and that the school would be dangerously close to a busy road.

Objector Gordon Bulmer said: "About 300 people have signed petitions against the proposal. Most of the kids at Windlestone have behavioural problems have so it is nonsense to say they won't cause problems in Chilton.

"Access for cars and crossing the bypass to get to or from the school seems stupid and dangerous."

Mr Johnson said: "At the moment, pupils occasionally visit Chilton without problems and are well-supervised.

"We would welcome local groups into the new building. I really don't think the move would have a negative impact on the area."

A council spokesman said the outline planning application will be lodged next month or in March and all public feedback will be considered.

He said: "If it was to go ahead, the new school could be opened for the start of term in September 2006."