ONE of the smallest youth hostels in the region is about to make a giant stride for the concept of sustainable tour-ism - at a cost of £100,000.

It is to become one of the country's first "eco-hostels" and by 2004, sheep's wool insulation and electricity from solar panels could be keeping guests warm.

The 22-bed hostel at Lockton, near Pickering, North Yorkshire, used to be the old village school and will be transformed.

The Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has been working with architects Eco Arc, which specialises in ecological building design, the North York Moors National Park Authority and Ryedale District Council to develop the project.

Its energy-saving features include the harvesting of rainwater to flush toilets, a dry compost WC and a roof on a new extension made from sedum, a plant which has good insulation properties.

Other changes include a specially adapted bedroom and bathroom for guests with disabilities.

Toilets and showers, currently situated outside the old school building, will be replaced with new indoor facilities and a ten-bed dormitory will be converted into a large lounge area.

Following a meeting with local people, community facilities could also be included - such as a recycling point, an IT workstation and a satellite post office service.

The YHA hopes the plans will help bring about a 50 per cent rise in the annual number of overnight stays.

The organisation's regional manager, Simon Ainley, said: "Without a revolutionary scheme like this, we would have had to seriously consider the future of YHA Lockton.

"But, with the support of the National Park and the local community, and the expertise of Eco Arc, we're putting forward a scheme which will not only secure that future but will offer a totally new youth hostelling experience for visitors to the moors."

Andrew Yeats, of Eco Arc, said: "Even though it is a small, modest project, it will be a great flagship and will set a precedent for the ecological renovation of existing buildings, as well as raising the profile of YHA in the arena of sustainable tourism."

The remote Langdon Beck Youth Hostel in upper Teesdale, County Durham, was recently praised by Transco's Northern Energy Initiative for cutting its energy consumption by more than 20 per cent.

It has also introduced a series of initiatives to reduce energy use, including renewable resources.

Solar panels have been installed and plans are under way to build a small wind turbine on the site.