A VICTORIAN country house near Kendal, formerly occupied by a religious order of nuns, could be redeveloped into a £3million hotel.

A Fylde coast firm has exchanged contracts on Brettargh Holt, near Levens, and plans to turn it into a four-star retreat.

It says the hotel will bring 40 permanent jobs and around £1m to the local economy every year.

“We’ll be employing local people to work here and plan to source from local suppliers where possible,” said Stewart McIntosh, who will be managing director of the ‘The Villa, Levens’ when it opens in 2014.

We know all about the wonderful Cumbrian food and drink and it will be very important to us that we use local companies.

“This is a great investment in the area and we’re delighted that we’ve closed the deal. Now we’re excited about getting to work.”

The 140-year-old house, which has previously been both a maternity home and residence of the religious order of Salesian Sisters, will be owned by Mr McIntosh and Fylde entrepreneur and hotelier Simon Rigby.

The pair plan to spend around £3million turning it into a 40-bedroomed ‘country house hotel’ with a chapel and pavillion for weddings and other functions.

As well as 40 permanent jobs they also plan to create posts for casual workers, as needed.

“Any new hotels in the area are to be welcomed,” said Steve Dickinson, from Cumbria Chamber of Com-merce.

“You don’t often get investment on this scale, not even in the Lake District.

“I think it’s a good use for the building too. I was disappointed when the Salesian Sisters moved out so it’s great that it will be restored and brought back into full use in this way.”

Paul Goodwin, marketing manager for Kendal College, said he was ‘delighted’ at the news and hoped the hotel would look to apprentices and newly-qualified local people to fill the posts.

And South Lakes MP Tim Farron also hailed the news, saying it was ‘fantastic’ to hear about the major investment.

“This is exactly what we need to be doing – working with businesses and attracting them to South Lakeland,” he said.

Mr McIntosh, who until five years ago managed The Whitewater Hotel at Backbarrow, said the restoration of the building would be carried out ‘sympathetically’ with features such as wood panelling, fireplaces and the original staircase all retained.

“We’re delighted that this lovely old lady will be used once again,” he said.

A deal has now been agreed between the buyers and the Salesian Sisters, although the sale will not be ‘complete’ until early in the New Year.

The plan also needs to be rubberstamped by South Lakeland District Council planners.

Mark Shipman, a development manager at SLDC, confirmed the proposal was ‘broadly in line’ with council policy, but said there could be an issue with the Highways Agency for road safety reasons.

Roger Atfield, chair of Levens Parish Council, also questioned how extra traffic would be dealt with, but said anything that brought employment to the area ‘should be celebrated’.

Coun Giles Archibald, SLDC’s portfolio holder for town centres and small business, said the development would benefit nearby towns and villages if approved.

If all goes to plan the hotel, set in 14 acres of land, could be open next February and fully operational by Easter, 2015.