A multi-million pound scheme to build luxury lodges at a five-star hotel has been approved despite concerns heritage areas could be affected.
After years of pre-application discussions, Seaham Hall submitted plans to Durham County Council in January for 24 new holiday lodges in its grounds.
This £4m scheme includes 20 single-storey lodges and full planning permission to build four two-storey buildings. includes 20 single-storey During consultation, Easington MP Grahame Morris and Historic England raised concerns the scheme would impact views of the grade-I listed St Mary the Virgin Church.
Nine objection letters also noted the potential impact on the church, access issues, increased noise and traffic congestion.
Councillors heard evidence from objectors and Seaham Hall management at Durham County Hall.
Objector Lesley Chapman said the plans would impact on neighbouring property ‘The Lodge’ and criticised the public consultation process which attracted 45 comments.
She also told the committee St Mary the Virgin Church was one of the oldest churches of it’s type in the country – a building older than Durham Cathedral.
“If you had an application for a caravan park on Durham Cathedral I don’t think we would be taking it seriously but that is what we’re doing here,” she said.
A council report previously stated that increased demand for “staycations” and family accommodation at Seaham Hall left the resort unable to meet current visitor needs – with only 21 bedrooms currently available.
Seaham Hall managing director, Ross Grieve said the lodges would provide the resort with a “strong and stable future”.
He added the hotel would manage the sales and letting of the lodges to “maintain the quality environment Seaham Hall is known for”.
The committee heard the lodges would be accessed from Seaham Hall’s existing west entrance and are designed to reduce potential visibility from public rights of way and the coastal path.
Area team leader for development management, Sarah Elridge, added the site was in a “heritage rich locality” and would have a “less than substantial” impact.
During discussion, councillors called for assurances that heritage and archeological assets would be protected.
Coun Jan Blakey said: “I have concerns about what could be lost of our history.
“I’m happy that they’re going to do something but once it starts, whatever is there will be lost.”
Coun Geraldine Bleasdale, of Seaham ward, said she was “horrified” by the plans, raising fears the lodge site could become a commercial area creating noise and attracting traffic.
Coun Ivan Jewell added that Seaham needs “additional tourism assets” and that the hotel’s plans would help support the town’s growth.
Following discussion, the proposals were passed by the planning committee with nine votes in favour and three against.
The committee heard that a full archeological excavation and record would be taken at the site before the lodges are installed alongside a section 106 agreement with DCC.
Under this agreement, Seaham Hall will pay £7774,08 towards conservation areas and providing alternative green space east of the site.
Seaham Hall was acquired from administration by a private investor in April 2012 and subsequent investment has helped establish the hotel/ spa as a leisure destination.
An applicant statement adds proposals will increase hotel capacity and create demand for up to 30 jobs with construction supporting an increased ‘local economic output’ of around £5million.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service