A SITE proposed for hundreds of new houses has had its ‘preferred site’ tag stripped as protesters pledge to step up their opposition to the plan.

The protest began after East Hampshire District Council’s Conservative-run ruling cabinet revealed Chawton Park Farm was a ‘preferred site’ for 1,200 new homes.

Land at the farm was included in the council’s Local Plan Spatial Strategy as development land.

After a vociferous protest, that saw thousands sign a petition against the idea, the council removed the ‘preferred’ tag at its meeting last Thursday.

About 30 protesters gathered outside the meeting at Penns Place with banners outlining their opposition to the plan.

Absent from the meeting was cabinet member Ingrid Thomas, member for Four Marks and Medstead, whose ward includes Chawton, home of the protest vote.

In a statement the council said: “At the meeting, which saw significant cross-party collaboration, councillors agreed to amend the wording of the Spatial Strategy preferred option, removing the word ‘preferred.”

Council leader Richard Millard later agreed removing the tag didn’t mean Chawton Park was safe from development.

He said: “We will continue gathering evidence on its suitability, as we will do with other sites that have been identified in the Spatial Strategy.

“When all the evidence has been gathered, a decision will be made, probably by spring of next year.”

The Lib Dem opposition group leader at the council, Steve Hunt, said a battle had been won, but the war was still to be fought.

He added: “There was lot of cross-party interaction, which was great.

“But the decision to remove the word ‘deferred’ is just a pause. Chawton Park Farm could still be built on, and the campaign to stop that continues.”

After the lengthy meeting, a new action group was formed by residents and town and parish councillors to step up the campaign.

A spokesman said: “The objections are not going away, and the district council can expect a vigorous examination of its evidence and justifications from this group of experienced planning campaigners.”

The council has now taken the battle over housing numbers to government minister Michael Gove (see Page 7).

The government wants 600 houses a year built in East Hampshire, but only 100 of those will go in the part of the district inside the national park – the rest will have to be sited outside it.