A CARE home for 63 elderly people is to be built at a historic site - if planners give the scheme permission.

Shotley Park Care Homes wants to create the £2.5m u-shaped building next to the existing residential home, which was built in 1850.

It used to belong to the Priestman family, industrialists who made their money by developing coal mines in the area.

The sandstone structure currently houses 45 residents and is a Grade-II listed building in the middle of a wooded conservation area near the village of Shotley Bridge.

Shotley Park Care Homes director and retired architect Brian Swinburne has drawn up plans for a new building on the former walled garden near the house.

He plans to imitate the original architecture, using sandstone and slate to compliment the existing building and enhance the services on offer.

Mr Swinburne said: "The idea is to reflect the character of the existing building, as far as the architectural content is concerned, in a modern idiom.

"This is a conservation area so no trees will be removed. We want it to blend in without any detriment to the environment.

"The area has a uniqueness, and I suppose the planning authority regard it as a local jewel in terms of the ambience that exists here."

Shotley Park Care Homes took over the building in 1987.

Mr Swinburne estimates the development will create about 20 jobs for carers, cooks, cleaners and other ancillary staff.

He hopes the construction will be done by a North-East firm once the contract has gone to tender.

A planning application has been submitted to Derwentside District Council, which has posted notices nearby to consult the community for its views.

Part of the plan includes moving the entrance 50 metres nearer the village to improve road safety, as there have been 23 crashes in the past ten years on the bend.

Residents are being informed of the proposals this week and will be reassured the home is not closing.

Staff have called a meeting this afternoon, and a meeting for the relatives of residents is being held tonight.