PLANS to transform a vacant Spennymoor pub into accommodation for vulnerable people have been given the green light.

Allure Developments, based in Shildon, submitted plans to Durham County Council earlier this year to refurbish and convert the North Eastern, on Clarence Street.

The former public house and hotel has been out of use for several years with owners previously failing to get an apartment scheme off the ground.

As part of a contract with the council, charity Changing Lives was appointed to manage a service for adults at risk of homelessness.

This included a bid for an 18-bed assisted living complex on the site with an aim of helping people from County Durham transition to independent living.

However, the proposals sparked opposition from some Spennymoor residents with a total of 58 letters of objection sent to the council’s planning department.

Spennymoor Town Council also called in the application to the council’s area planning committee for decision due to the strong public interest.

At Thursday’s meeting (October 24), concerns were raised about the potential impact on neighbours from residents and equally, the potential for bedsit residents to be drawn into crime and drug issues in the town.

Changing Lives was quick to point out that the service would be aimed at people with low to medium support needs, with any changes in behaviour leading to residents being relocated elsewhere.

A representative from the charity stressed the service would not operate as a bail hostel, care facility, drug and alcohol rehab centre, needle exchange or B&B.

At the Durham County Hall meeting, objectors and supporters agreed the landmark building was in need of a revamp.

Spennymoor division councillors also shared their views.

Coun Ian Geldard said future residents could “fall victim” to crime problems in the area while Coun Liz Maddison said residents needed reassurance that all avenues for the building’s future had been explored.

Although Durham Constabulary had not raised any concerns about the scheme, Councillor Kevin Thompson said it should be monitored going forward.

Earlier this year project partners held a public consultation to help inform and reassure residents about the proposals.

At the committee meeting to decide the application, the majority of councillors on the planning committee supported the scheme.

Cllr Shirley Quinn said: “I personally feel that Changing Lives are doing a great thing in supporting these people that need help. Every single one of us in this room do not know how our lives are going to pan out in the future. Just to think there’s a comfort blanket for people to be able to go and rebuild their lives, I think Spennymoor has to be applauded for this.”

Cllr Fraser Tinsley said: “I think people have concerns that there would be a negative impact upon the area as a result of this development going ahead. I would like make the point that when a building is left to decay that in itself can also have an impact on the area. What this application does is bring forward a sustainable use for a building going forward and that is a positive for the area.”

However, Cllr John Shuttleworth, maintained the scheme would “create problems for the people of Spennymoor”.

Members were told the facility would be closely monitored by Changing Lives and the council.

Vulnerable people will be sent to the facility after an assessment and would stay an average of six to nine months with 24-hour staffing on site.

The centre would also provide a “therapeutic environment” and safeguarding controls with a wider aim of helping individuals towards employment, education and training.

Following discussion, the council’s planning committee passed the plans with a majority vote.

Going forward, Changing Lives will provide a ‘community standard’ including regular meetings to discuss community concerns. This includes a ‘community steering group’ involving Spennymoor residents and businesses.