A MULTI-MILLION housing development is to be built in the centre of an historic North-East city despite opposition from English Heritage.

The landmark former ice rink on the banks of the River Wear in Durham City is to be bulldozed and replaced with luxury apartments after members of the city council's development control committee voted to give planning permission for the £20m scheme.

The controversial project attracted criticism from English Heritage, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the City of Durham Trust and some councillors who feared the modern architecture would detract from historic views of the city's cathedral.

However, on Wednesday night councillors voted to allow the development after hearing the applicant say the building would blend in with the neighbouring Walkergate development and Gala Theatre.

The application, submitted by Durham-based architects Howarth Litchfield Partnership on behalf of an undisclosed developer, is to replace the building, currently home to the Kascada Bowl 10-pin bowling alley and Meridian Health and Fitness Club. In its place will be built a development of up to six storeys incorporating 93 apartments, a further six homes which mix living and office space, an oval lace-wing building, which would provide recreational space including a viewing gallery above the old mill race, a riverside walkway and open square and a 150-space basement car park.

Initial plans submitted earlier this year were dismissed as "monolithic" by planners but, after a design consultant was brought in, revised plans were accepted subject to 28 conditions.

Planning consultant Nicholas Lawrence described the revised building as "a worthwhile scheme of incredible quality" in an area which was now emerging as a modern quarter of Durham.

However, Dr Douglas Pocock, of the City of Durham Trust, said it as an "inappropriate scheme on a highly sensitive site" and described the proposal as "over large and insensitive architecture which will have a damaging impact".

Cllr John Hepplewhite said he was concerned that the loss of the bowling alley, one of the few leisure facilities in the city, would: "drive young people into the drinking houses of Durham".

However, Cllr Denis Jackson said the existing buildings had "no architectural merit whatsoever".

The committee voted by by 13 votes to four to allow the development.