The clock will be turned back at a country house hotel with a history of almost three centuries.
Embleton Hall at Longframlington has been a hotel for 28 years – before that it was two mansions.
Now the county’s north planning committee members have voted unanimously to allow the building to be divided again and become two houses.
Their deliberations on Thursday followed 12 minutes of agonising over how the matter should be handled, because the hotel owner is councillor Trevor Thorne, a member of the north committee and chairman ofthe central planning committee.
The proposal is uncontroversial in the village, with no comments from neighbours and support from the parish council. It was referred to the committee only because it came from an authority member.
But councillors are sensitive to public opinion after recent controversies in Northumberland about the involvement of county and local councillors in wind turbine schemes.
Council solicitor Tom Graham advised members it was probably sensible to declare a personal interest – even though in his view there wasn’t a close association between them and the applicant – and then go ahead and determine the application.
Coun Dougie Watkin said he and Coun Thorne had attended the same school from the age of 11, so he had known him a long time and held him in high regard, but he was disappointed this decision had not been passed to one of the two other area committees. “It’s a matter of public perception,” he said
Coun Robert Arckless said other committees would face the same issues they did.
He said: “So, I think what’s being done is absolutely fair and reasonable.
Coun Gordon Castle agreed and said to defer at this late stage would be unreasonable, given the solicitor’s advice.
Coun Anthony Murray said: “I’m very sad that we have got this situation whereby our integrity is being questioned to a degree.”
Coun Thorne left the Alnwick chamber during the debate on his planning application.
Senior planning officer Neil Armstrong recommended planning approval and listed building consent.
He said the grade II listed building in more than three acres of grounds had been converted from two houses.
The first was built in 1730 and had a wing added in 1893 to make one substantial residence.
It had been divided into two homes in the second half of the 20th century until becoming a hotel.
Coun Thorne is retiring from the hotel business and has sold the hall to a couple who plan to make it their home.