A PROPERTY developer at the centre of a controversial planning application has said he wants to preserve an Edwardian school’s ‘natural architectural beauty’.

Bashar Al-Issa’s recent plan to create a 109-bed hostel in the former Greenland Community Primary School in South Moor, Stanley, caused major concerns within the community.

Mr Al-Issa, a former bankrupt and convicted fraudster, has taken out a 15-year lease on the red brick building, which stands in the middle of a residential area.

He wanted to house vulnerable adults, but withdrew the application from Durham County Council following a public backlash and a meeting with local representatives.

The 40-year-old, who lives in London, said: “I am very keen to preserve the current school because of its natural architectural beauty.

“The meeting I had with a number of councillors and the council development manager was extremely productive and they were instrumental in guiding me towards withdrawing the application for the supported hostel and promoted the idea of replacing it with either a hotel or a care facility for elderly people, within the structure of the existing building.”

The school, which opened in 1908, closed five years ago, when staff and pupils moved to a new purpose built facility nearby.

A meeting, led by North Durham MP Kevan Jones, who also opposed the hostel plan was held at the school site on Thursday with over 100 residents.

Mr Jones told the crowd the old building was ‘full of asbestos’, that it was structurally unsound and that Mr Al-Issa would need an ‘open cheque book’ to renovate it.

He suggested the site should be cleared and replaced with affordable housing for people in the area.

Other people suggested a developer could create bungalows for elderly people, or a new facility for community use.

Mr Al-Issa is currently on licence, having served almost five years of a six-and-a-half year sentence for tax fraud.

He was jailed in 2013 for his role in £2.8 million tax scam in which he conned inspectors into believing he was making £20 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Jeremy Irons to be filmed in the UK.

In 2009, he was declared bankrupt after his ambitious plan to build twin tower skyscrapers in Salford, Manchester, failed.

The aim was to have two towers, of 31 and 46 storeys, with a pool and spa complex on the roof of the smaller tower and an observation deck on the taller one.

It is understood the development made slow progress before the credit crunch meant that £89m finance for the project from Anglo-Irish Bank evaporated in summer 2007 and subsequent efforts to raise funding failed.

Three of his companies, BS Construction, BS Developments and Issa Developments, were forced into administration facing debts understood to approach £45 million.

Mr Al-Issa, who said he was discharged from bankruptcy in 2012, is receiving advice from Durham County Council on how to proceed with the development in South Moor.

He said: “Currently I am hiring professionals to look into the viability of the alternative uses suggested.

“I am look forward to seeing through this project up as I believe when completed to everyone’s satisfaction, it will help lift up the local area and provide more jobs for the community.”