A LIFELINE was given to brewery workers in the North-East yesterday as hopes remain high that a takeover will happen in the New Year.

Proposals by Castle Eden Brewery to buy near-neighbour Cameron's, at Hartlepool, from Wolverhampton and Dudley (WDB) took a step nearer after a controversial planning decision by Easington district councillors.

The takeover, which would save the jobs of most of the 100-strong workforce at Hartlepool, is dependent on a housing deal going ahead on the Castle Eden Brewery site, in east Durham.

Brewing of both company's products - such as Strongarm, Trophy Bitter, Nimmo's XXXX and Castle Eden Ale - would then take place at the single site at Cameron's Lion Brewery.

It would bring an end to the 175-year tradition of brewing at Castle Eden, but preserve jobs of much of the workforce at both sites.

A bid by Persimmon Homes to develop 70 luxury homes and ten flats in converted brewery buildings on the 14.6-acre Castle Eden site won the qualified consent of Easington councillors.

Approval was given subject to a number of conditions, despite opposition from Castle Eden Parish Council and objections by residents.

But, as a development in a conservation area, the council agreed to refer the decision to the Government Office North-East for its comments.

That may result in the Secretary of State "calling in" the proposals, which could lead to a public inquiry taking place later next year.

After yesterday's vote of 22 to five in favour of the proposal, a Castle Eden brewery spokesman said: "This is very positive after a long series of negotiations. It puts the ball very much in Wolverhampton and Dudley's court."

He said the agreement with WDB was to have expired on December 31, but he was hopeful the application would not be called in, allowing the takeover to go ahead early in the New Year.

"We would sincerely hope that the Government Office North-East treat it sympathetically and do not pass it on for an inquiry.

"If a public inquiry is required it will go into the summer and beyond, and WDB have pressures on themselves which could lead them to taking a different view."

WDB spokesman Jeremy Eaton said: "We will be meeting David Soley, owner of Castle Eden, in the near future to discuss the implications."

John Bridgeman, chief engineer at Cameron's Lion Brewery, said: "Yes this is a lifeline. From Cameron's point of view it is plan A and there is no plan B at the moment.