DARLINGTON businessman Duncan Bannatyne is building an orphanage in Romania for abandoned and HIV infected children.

The 53-year-old fitness club boss has pledged around £100,000 towards the full cost of building the home in the Transylvania area of Romania.

The millionaire, who is chairman of Bannatyne Fitness, is working alongside charity, Scottish International Relief (SIR) on the project.

Construction on the orphanage, which will be house ten children, has already started in the town of Targu Mures. The home will be called Bannatyne House after its benefactor.

In the past four years Mr Bannatyne has raised more than £300,000 for charities devoted to the plight of Romanian orphans.

In a visit to the country in 2002 he was shocked to discover children living in sewers and on waste tips.

Children aged between eight to 12-years-old live in appalling conditions in state-run hospitals. Some youngsters spend so long in cots on the wards they have yet to learn to walk at eight years old, he said.

He visited SIR's first home, Iona House, and was so touched by what he saw on the trip he decided to donate money to house more orphans.

He said: "The plight of these children has had a profound effect on me and anyone that saw how they live first hand would never forget it.

"I have committed myself to try and improve their lives and give them hope of some kind of future.

"I hope Bannatyne House offers a small number of Romanian children a chance of a better future.

He added: "The conditions that their children are born into are appalling. After years of Communism the state services are not up to the task of providing any adequate help.

"I have visited Romania to find children living in sewers and on waste tips, which were shocking and distressing enough, but then I discovered the living conditions in the hospitals are just as horrific. Bannatyne House will offer a step towards some sort of normality to these children's lives."

Bannatyne House will cost £50,000 a year to operate and the businessman has already contributed to running costs.

The home will employ 14 full time staff, all from Romania, including trained nurses, carers and a teacher and is expected to be open in May.

Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow from Scottish International Relief said: "The generosity and commitment Duncan has shown will make a real difference to the to the lives of these children."