PLANS to build 64 new homes in Bellingham have been approved.

The proposed housing development on the former auction mart site in the village had been recommended for refusal by planning officers.

Northumberland County Council planning officer Neil Armstrong cited concerns over the scale, massing and design of the proposed apartment block when making his recommendation. He also questioned the materials, space, and suitability of the scheme.

Concerns were also raised over parking.

The application for the £7.2m scheme by Maple Oak Living went before Tynedale Local Area Council's planning committee on Tuesday.

"It was a very close decision; it was a balance between harm and need", said chair Coun. Trevor Cessford. "It was given due credit."

Five members voted in favour of the scheme, contrary to the recommendation, with five against. There were two abstentions before a chair's casting vote.

The chair had already voted in favour of the development during the one-hour 50 minute deliberation on the application. 

Coun. Cessford said a letting policy had now been attached to the application as to give priority to locals. The condition means people in Bellingham will be prioritised and then people in the surrounding parishes. 

Northumberland County Councillor for Bellingham John Riddle, who seconded the proposal to approve the site, said: "It was a difficult planning application.

"Some people will be in favour of it, some people will be against it. But I do think it'll support local shops and the schools.

"It's important that people recognise that it was already earmarked for housing. It was an opportunity, with extra funding from the North of Tyne, for a brownfield, difficult site."

Coun. Riddle said the site had previously had planning permission for more homes but this fell through after the financial crash.

The developer has proposed 64 new homes, including 20 assisted living apartments.

Bellingham Parish Council previously objected to the scheme.

The plans to transform the site, which has been vacant since 2002, by building 60 new, affordable homes were first submitted by Maple Oak last year.

At the beginning of the year, some of the plans were amended and resubmitted following comments from local residents, Bellingham Parish Council and Northumberland County Council. This included an increase in the number of properties within the proposed housing block as well as a change in materials.

A letter sent to Northumberland County Council planning officers on behalf of Maple Oak Living at the time said: "There is a demonstrated need for affordable housing in the area and the tenure mix now proposed ensures the development will be accessible to more people."