A PLAN by millionaire businessman Duncan Bannatyne to expand a Darlington hotel is being recommended for approval by council officers, despite objections.

The Grade II-listed Grange Hotel, in the town's Southend Avenue, was acquired by the chairman of Bannatyne Fitness in 1998, through his company Creme de la Creme.

The company now wants to build a four-storey extension on the site, creating a further 15 bedrooms and a new function suite.

If the scheme is approved, the work would be the third significant expansion to the building in recent years and bring the total number of rooms in the hotel to 61.

Darlington Borough Council members will decide on the application at a planning committee meeting being held on Wednesday.

They are being urged by council officers to give the proposals their approval, despite complaints that the scheme is unacceptable to the owners of flats in neighbouring Westcliffe Court.

A letter sent to the council's planning department said that residents were "very concerned about the visual aspect to the proposed extension".

The letter also said that access to the hotel was "most obscure" and that guests often drove around on private land, even though prohibitive signs were displayed.

But council officers insisted that there would be no impact on the Westcliffe Court flats, because the extension would be a considerable distance away.

Although it would be visible to some properties in Coniscliffe Road, they believe that people living there would not be adversely affected either.

A report to councillors says: "It is unlikely that the proposed extension would have an adverse impact on these properties in terms of a loss of light or privacy, or an overbearing impact."

The new function suite, to be built on the site of an existing conference room, is also said to be of no worry to people living nearby.

The report concludes that while noise increases from extra traffic and guests has been taken into account, there would be parking provision in the hotel grounds.

"It is not considered that this in itself would be likely to result in a serious reduction in residential amenity so as to warrant refusal of the application," the report says.

l PLANS to increase car parking provision at a Darlington fitness club are expected to be supported by councillors.

Bannatyne Fitness has applied to the borough council for permission to increase the number of spaces at its Haughton Road club from 141 to 156.

The proposal is part of a wider plan to extend the club, improving facilities and bringing jobs to the town, the company says.

Councillors are expected to approve the parking scheme at Wednesday's planning committee meeting.

Council officers have recommended approval, despite strong objections from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The organisation says that the expansion would create road safety problems and makes no provision for bicycle racks.

But a report to councillors says it is crucial that a balance is struck between meeting planning guidance and ensuring that there is no off-site parking on Haughton Road.