COUNCILLORS have unanimously backed plans to transform a landmark hotel into nine new flats.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee has approved the proposal to breathe new life into the Grade II listed Market Hotel building, in Lynn Street.
The council-owned building has been empty for several years after the closure of a restaurant business which ran from the building in 2007.
In November of that year police uncovered a £500,000 drug farm inside the former hotel, then known as M.A.S. Agraa Palace Indian restaurant.
The landmark building already has two flats but the new plan is to convert the rest of the building into seven other flats.
Two modern extensions to the rear will be demolished as part of the work.
Chris Pipe, the council’s planning services manager, said: “This will bring a vacant listed building back into use.”
Labour councillor Rob Cook, chairman of the committee, said: “For the life of me I can’t believe how it came to be listed in the first place.
“What we have here is to try and make the best of a bad job.”
Conservative group leader Ray Wells added: “I will be supporting this because this can’t be any worse than what is already in place.”
There had been plans to demolish the former hotel, which has also been on the market for sale, as part of a housing redevelopment scheme, but English Heritage rejected proposals.
A planning report said the building had stood empty for several years despite numerous attempts to sell it.
It was then decided to look at the possibility of converting the building into self-contained flats with funding from the council’s empty homes initiative.
Fourteen new two-storey houses have been built on land in nearby Charles Street and it was originally planned to build more houses on the site of the hotel.
The council paid £130,000 for the hotel in October 2009.
The plans were unanimously approved, subject to final comments from English Heritage, and conditions will be delegated to officers.