CIVIC chiefs say they have been forced to abandon their attempt to block plans for an 80-home scheme on a greenfield site in Hampshire.

Families living near farmland at Loperwood Lane in Calmore were delighted when district councillors rejected the fiercely-contested scheme, which had sparked more than 100 objections.

But the applicant, London-based Howard Sharp and Partners, later lodged an appeal.

Today the Daily Echo can reveal that the council has decided to offer no evidence at the forthcoming public inquiry following warnings it was likely to lose the appeal, potentially costing taxpayers about £50,000.

The authority backed down after receiving new legal advice issued in the wake of the government’s pledge to tackle the nation’s housing shortage.

Campaigners say the council’s refusal to defend its own decision could result in the proposed development being given the go-ahead.

And they fear that other greenfield sites could be under threat from the government’s determination to create a housebuilding boom.

The Loperwood Lane scheme was rejected by the council last August, even though the site is in an area earmarked for housing in the authority’s draft Local Plan Review. Ward councillor Neville Penman said he was “deeply disappointed” at the council’s U-turn.

But he said he saw no benefit in the authority maintaining its objection to the proposed development - and running the risk of incurring huge costs - if it stood little chance of winning the appeal.

Fellow Totton councillor David Harrison, a member of the committee, said the legal advice received by the council had “changed markedly” since August.

He added: “Central government have stacked things in favour of all housing development, regardless of concerns.

“Unfortunately we have a green light for developers to press ahead with housing on fields, even before a local area plan is drawn up and agreed.”

People living in the Loperwood Lane area say the proposed new homes will generate too much traffic as well as adding to local flooding problems by covering the “Calmore sponge” with concrete.

But the developer rejected claims made by objectors and says the scheme will provide much-needed new housing.

The council’s head of planning, economy and housing, Chris Elliot, said: “Taking into account current government policy on housebuilding we would very likely lose the appeal and have costs awarded against us. The planning committee decided that this was a not an approach they wished to take. The case is at appeal and so the decision lies with a government inspector. He or she will still have to consider comments from local people.”