A £31 MILLION student accommodation development, comprising 363 beds, has finally been given the go-ahead.

Planning inspector Yvonne Wright today (Monday, March 7) granted Peveril Securities planning permission to convert the former County Hospital site, off North Road, Durham.

The original Victorian mental hospital will be converted into 82 student studios, while later extensions will be demolished to make way for two new blocks comprising 281 flats.

The decision effectively ends a three-year battle by residents concerned at the spread of student accommodation in Durham to block the project.

Jackie Levitas, the last non-student resident of neighbouring Waddington Street, said: “It’s a bitter blow for me personally and for Durham.

“The whole city is going to be redeveloped as a student campus. I’m so sorry for Durham.”

The City of Durham Trust said the scheme would blight a site which had great potential.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said it was incredibly frustrating the decision had come weeks before Durham County Council is expected to adopt a new interim student accommodation policy requiring developers to prove their accommodation is needed and would have no negative impact on the local community.

“We’ve got landed with a totally inappropriate development, inappropriate in massing, scale and character, that imposes on the conservation area,” the MP added.

The County Hospital closed in January 2010 and plans first emerged for its redevelopment in mid-2013.

Council planning committees have twice refused planning permission but Mrs Wright gave the green light following a one-day local hearing in December.

Ms Levitas, Dr Blackman-Woods and the Trust all strongly criticised the council’s defence of its refusal decision at the hearing.

For its part, Peveril said its scheme would see the site’s unattractive 20th century extensions removed and views of the Victorian hospital improved.

The accommodation will be managed by Unite Students.

Dr Blackman-Woods highlighted what she said were factual inaccuracies in Mrs Wright’s report, pledging to raise them with the Inspector.

The MP will also meet residents to discuss whether to take the case to the Ombudsman and seek a meeting with Peveril to see if there is “any room for negotiation”.

Public concern at the spread of student accommodation is growing, with hundreds of new rooms having been built in the last few years, construction under way on another 1,000 and planning permission in place for another 2,300, at a time when Durham University is planning to increase its Durham-based student numbers by just 1,800 between 2012 and 2020.