A 167 year old school, described as a town's worst eyesore, is likely to be demolished - much to the delight of people living nearby.

They gave a warm welcome yesterday to a plan to knock down the derelict building near the centre of Barnard Castle, Co Durham, and build a four-bedroomed house in its place.

Gary and Hilary Bishop intended to renovate the property, which was called the British Infants School when it opened in 1837 - a year before Charles Dickens visited the town to gather material for his novel Nicholas Nickleby.

But a structural engineer found the stone walls were too dilapidated to be repaired economically, and Teesdale District Council planners have accepted that demolition is the only feasible solution.

Mr Bishop, a housemaster and head of business studies at Barnard Castle School, said yesterday, "The cost of renovation would have been far more than the house could ever be worth, so rebuilding is the only answer."

He said pigeons, vandals and the weather have caused immense damage since the school, which was designed for 182 pupils, closed more than 15 years ago.

A larger school standing nearby has been converted into high quality homes, and other new houses have been built on surrounding land.

One man living nearby said, "It is now a desirable area with lovely views over the River Tees, but is spoilt by the infants' school, which is easily the town's worst eyesore. It will be wonderful to have it removed."

A preservation trust made plans some years ago to renovate the building, and later Jehovah's Witnesses tried to make it into a place of worship. But both schemes fell through.

Mr Bishop added, "We bought it a few years ago but were held up by a legal hitch over ownership of two small pieces of land, and then by problems over how to restore it. Now we hope we can build a house next year."

The council has yet to give planning consent. But planning officer Andrew Bishop (who has no connection to the applicant) said, "There should be no problem as demolition seems the only way forward."