PLANS to transform a derelict military base in the Hampshire countryside have been approved after the site was branded an eyesore.

Civic chiefs have approved an outline application to demolish most of the buildings at the old RAF Sopley and replace them with 80 homes – half of which will be affordable properties.

The district council has previously had to take enforcement action against businesses operating illegally on the 28-acre site in Derritt Lane, Bransgore.

But others have been granted lawful development certificates and 11 of the 91 huts will be retained for employment use.

Now known as Merryfield Park, the former RAF camp occupies green belt land next to part of the New Forest National Park.

A report to members of the district council said that the application to redevelop the site had resulted in nearly 40 letters of support.

Quoting some of the comments made in the letters, the report said: “The site has many derelict and unattractive buildings and its redevelopment for housing and business uses would be a considerable improvement. The site is an eyesore.”

Senior council officers hit back at claims made by their opposite numbers at the National Park Authority (NPA), who had objected to the scale of the proposed development, saying that it would have an adverse impact on the national park and the green belt.

But head of development control Chris Elliott said: “I’ll be blunt – the NPA has assessed this incorrectly.

“The scheme will have less impact than the existing development.

“It’s relatively easy to make an objection without looking at the detail. This gives you a better-looking development and also resolves the problems we’ve had on the site.”

Councillors who praised the application included Pat Wyeth, who is also chairman of the NPA’s planning committee.

She said: “The applicants are providing affordable homes for local people and as much green space as they possibly can.”

RAF Sopley was used to house some of the Vietnamese boat people after they arrived in the UK in the late 1970s.

The report to members stated: “It has a history but the majority of the buildings are in a really poor state of repair.”

Cllr Maureen Holding said: “What’s proposed is probably better than what’s there at the moment but it’s still green belt.”

But Cllr Tony Swain said: “The site has been a bit of an eyesore for the past 20 years and I’m delighted that we’re sorting it out.”

After the meeting an NPA spokesman said: “We were invited to make comments on the application and had access to all the documents submitted. We then formed a professional response, having regard to all the relevant information.”