County council plans to transform a 25-acre expanse of the historic Standford Grange Farm in Headley into a ‘Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace’ (SANG) for dog walkers have been criticised by a specialist conservation architect.

Hampshire County Council has applied to the local planning authority, East Hampshire District Council, to designate part of the farm as a SANG to offset the impact on local heathland of the 147 new homes being built at the former Mill Chase Academy site.

The proposed SANG would occupy three existing fields to the south east of the former school site, providing a new circular walk designed to attract home-owners – and their dogs – away from the Wealden Heaths Special Protection Area just 1.3km from the housing site.

Standford Grange Farm is owned by Hampshire County Council and leased to a tenant farmer. The application, submitted on behalf of Miller Homes, states the SANG would not harm the viability of the farm.

However, Jack Warshaw, a specialist conservation architect based in Standford Lane close to the application site, has slammed the county’s plan to turn a large area of the ‘County Farm’ into a “people’s and dogs’ exercise area”.

Mr Warshaw, whose open letter to East Hampshire District Council leader Richard Millard is printed in full on Page 3 of this week’s Herald, says the proposal will render the 100-acre farm “unviable” and cites a commitment by councillors in 2012 to safeguard the farm.

It also come just a month after East Hampshire District Council announced plans to buy a community farm somewhere in the district.

This irony has not been lost on Mr Warshaw, who has accused the local authorities of offering a “shiny new wrapper with nothing but air inside” while destroying an “actual real, live, prize-winning working farm”.

Mr Warshaw says the Hampshire County Council plans would change around a third of the 100-acre public-owned farm at Standford Grange to a SANG, leaving the historic farm – one of the few remaining operational farms locally – “ripe for selling off as another housing estate”.

This has been dismissed by the county council, however, which states in its application that the county’s farm estate comprises landholdings as little as 4.4 acres, and stresses a “smaller farm holding at Standford Grange would not impact the viability of the farm”.

Responding to concerns visiting dogs could impact on cattle in adjoining fields, the county council’s application also adds perimeter stockproof fencing would be installed around the SANG, and gates would be installed at entrances to prevent dogs escaping.

There have been concerns that new homes could be built on Standford Grange Farm for well over a decade and a half – with reassurances given by senior councillors in 2008 and 2012 that no homes were proposed for the site.

To view or comment on the county council’s application, which also proposes new car and cycle parking, paths and landscaping, click here.