A SHADOW has been cast over the controversial construction of a secure mental hospital in Widnes after it emerged that a further planning application could be required before building work can continue.

The Priory initially received planning permission in 2005 for a building that would be used for 'residential care and treatment' - but it has since been revealed that it will be a medium to low security psychiatric hospital.

New and more stringent planning rules introduced by the Government last year mean its use as a secure mental hospital, where all patients will be detained under the Mental Health Act, must be clearly outlined.

Work is well under way on the building but now, five months before the planned launch, the 280-bed unit has hit a major stumbling block.

The Priory group's executive director, Steve Conway, met Halton Borough Council bosses in a bid to over-come the problem. He said that The Priory had done 'everything that has been asked of them'.

But both parties have taken legal advice.

David Parr, council chief executive, said: 'At a meeting on January 29 between myself, council members and representatives of the Priory Group, Priory stated that their current proposal is 'to provide a secure hospital looking after patients', that they propose to 'register the site as a secure hospital' and that 'all residents will be detained under the Mental Health Act'.

'The planning permission granted in 2005 was for 'the provision of residential care and treatment', not a secure hospital.

'It is clear the current proposed use of the site is materially different from the use for which planning permission has been granted.

'At the insistence of members, I have sought legal advice on the status of the planning permission.'

The Priory insists that it has acted with integrity and openness' all along.

Mr Conway said: 'We applied and planning permission was granted but the rules changed in June 2006.

'However, permission had already been granted by the council and the matter lies with our legal team.'