COUNTRYISDE campaigners are forming a new group to help protect Winchester and its surrounding countryside.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England's Hampshire branch is finalising details for a planning group that will flag up applications that could be “harmful” to the area.

It will be known as The South Downs and Central Winchester District Planning Group.

Previously, CPRE has worked with members of campaign groups such as the City of Winchester Trust, Save Barton Farm or the Alresford Society, and then communicated with local authorities.

But the new group brings together many of these individuals under one banner.

Christopher Napier, the CPRE's planning and policy chairman, said: “I think it will enable CPRE to be more active in the district.

“In formalising and having better coverage, we hope to wield a bit more influence.”

A network of 'eyes and ears' will alert the group to planning applications of interest right throughout the district, and a response will be drafted and forwarded to the relevant authority.

The group will be led by two convenors from the CPRE, Robert Jamieson and Caroline Dibden.