A PLANNING application that will bring major changes to a secure mental health hospital has been approved by councillors, despite safety fears from residents.

In the first ever virtual planning meeting held by Northumberland County Council, changes to Ferndene Hospital in Prudhoe were approved by a margin of 14 votes to zero, with one abstention.

The proposal will see an extension built, along with external remodelling of the existing buildings. This will allow the trust to provide both low and medium secure facilities at the site.

If approved, the proposals would see patients under 18 rated as medium secure moved from St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth to Ferndene.

The meeting heard that NHS guidelines state that medium secure facilities accommodate young people with mental health issues who present the highest risk to others.

In a statement read out by council officers, Nathan Harald, who lives on nearby Humbleswood, said: “We strongly object. The consequences of these patients, particularly around small children, doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Coun. Gordon Stewart, who represents Prudhoe South, added: “I can’t support this. I can’t be 100 per cent sure of the safety of everyone there.

“I know all the residents there support the NHS – but this is the wrong place.”

However, it was pointed out the changes will make the site more secure due to a new fence and vehicle airlock.