A PUB chain has been given permission by magistrates to open from 10am.

But after JD Wetherspoon won approval to serve alcohol an hour earlier than the present 11am opening time in the north Durham area, other pubs were told the decision was not carte blanche for all licensed premises to follow suit.

Wetherspoon wants conformity at its 618-pub estate across the country, by being able to serve alcoholic drinks, breakfasts, coffee, tea and toast from 10am.

Since September, many have been granted earlier opening licences. The latest licensing bench to grant approval was the North Durham justices at yesterday's monthly sitting.

Solicitor Terry Hamer made the application on behalf of the company, which has one pub in the licensing area, The Company Row, Consett, which opened in October.

The chain expects to open a second, in the former Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society premises in North Road, Durham, later this year. There are also plans for a further pub in Peterlee.

Mr Hamer said: "Out of 618 premises nationally, 313 are now able to open an hour earlier and I suspect that figure is rising all the time. I'm told the Sunderland justices granted approval for two Wetherspoon's premises in the city and one in Washington in the last few days.

"It's a national policy of the company and so far only ten licensing divisions have refused applications, for one local reason or another.

"I would hope there are no particular problems with disorder, but the police have been consulted and have no objections."

Granting approval, bench chairman Basil Ingleby said: "Clearly we have given some thought to this and we do believe ourselves to be forward-thinking in this county."