RESIDENTS furious at the “studentification” of their city could be on the brink of a major success, after planners came out against multi-million pound plans to turn a former hospital into digs.

More than 200 Durham residents, along with councillors, the city’s MP, English Heritage and Durham University, have spoken out against Peveril Securities’ £17m scheme to convert and extend the Victorian-built former County Hospital into accommodation for hundreds of students.

Now Durham County Council’s planners have recommended councillors refuse planning permission.

In his report to next week’s committee, senior planner Peter Herbert says the development would be out of scale and harmful to the Durham City conservation area, as well as having a negative impact on the grand 1850s-built hospital.

Peveril’s representatives will get their chance to persuade councillors otherwise at Durham’s County Hall next Tuesday (July 29), but Crossgate Community Partnership chair Roger Cornwell, Neville’s Cross councillor Nigel Martin and neighbour and campaigner Jackie Levitas immediately welcomed Mr Herbert’s conclusion, with Cllr Martin tweeting: “Let’s hope the committee agree!”

The County Hospital, off North Road, formerly housed inpatient services for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust until January 2010, when it was replaced by the purpose-built £17.9m Lanchester Road Hospital, on the city’s outskirts.

It was built by donations and public subscription in 1853, before being extended in the 1930s and 1960s.

The proposals would see the original building converted into 89 student studios and later extensions demolished to make way for new blocks holding 309 student bedrooms. At its highest, the development would be eight storeys.

Residents say it would be too big and there are already too many students in the area, while Durham University says the rooms would be too small and it has no intention of using it.

Peveril, which has scaled back its proposals from a total of 440 beds, says the scheme would help the University meet its plans to “significantly increase” its student numbers by 2020, meet an identified lack of purpose-built student accommodation and free up city centre homes for families.

Further, it would bring the site back into use, enhance the conservation area, respect the character of the hospital and create jobs.

Students would be required to sign a code of conduct, the firm adds.

The scheme will be debated at County Hall, Durham, on Tuesday (July 29) at 2pm.