DEVELOPERS looked on in dismay as Test Valley councillors threw out their controversial plans to build 140 homes on farmland in a Hampshire village.

In a shock decision and major setback for Rownhams Promotions Ltd, Test Valley’s southern area committee refused to back the authority’s planning officials' recommendation to approve the company’s proposed development at Fields Farm in Rownhams.

Councillors claimed that if the scheme off Rownhams Lane was given the green light, important views towards Chilworth and Lord’s Wood – a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation – would be lost forever.

They also say that the narrow "green lung" of countryside between Rownhams and Southampton would also continue to disappear and they fear the village will become a suburb of the city.

Rownhams Promotion Ltd made it clear to planning officers before the meeting that the company would appeal to a planning inspector in a bid to get the decision approved if councillors rejected the outline scheme which besides the 140 new homes includes demolishing Fields Farm House.

This building stands in the centre of the 20-acre site earmarked for development.

Tony Seaton, chairman of the action group fighting the proposal, said the decision was good news for Rownhams residents who are fed up with developers targeting greenfields in the village in a bid to build more homes.

“I am very pleased it has been rejected and it might slow down the overdevelopment in Rownhams and create a green barrier between the the village and Southampton,” said Mr Seaton, who like other residents is worried Rownhams will be swallowed up by Southampton if the house-building doesn’t stop.

The developers – some shaking their heads in disbelief at the committee’s decision – declined to comment afterwards.

Debating the contentious plans, which attracted 75 letters objecting, councillors hung their objections on landscaping issues and the proposed scheme would being detrimental to the character of the area.

Deputy borough leader Martin Hatley warned that there would be “little left” of the local gap between Rownhams and Southampton if Fields Farm is built on.

Romsey’s Tadburn member Mark Cooper agreed and he described the land as a “green lung” separating Rownhams from the city.

“If we (Test Valley) build right up to our own borough boundary, we might expect Southampton City to do the same. It is up to us to defend our boundary,” said Mr Cooper who added that oak trees along the Rownhams Lane border of the proposed site were semi-mature - around 100 years old.

“As they grow, pressure will be put on us to have them, pruned, cutback or removed. This is one landscape reason on its own,” for refusing the application pointed out Mr Cooper.

Southern area committee chairman and Nursling and Rownhams member Phil Bundy agreed with previous speakers.

He said: “The borough’s landscaper officer has objected to the plans and in my view the harm would be to close the gap between Test Valley and Southampton. There would be loss of views towards Chilworth. It is important to retain the tree line to the north of the site.”

And Valley Park member Alan Dowden reminded his colleagues that when the Redbridge Lane development was approved by a Government inspector there was a shortfall in housing land supply in the Test Valley.

“I wonder what would have happened if we did. We are on the right track here,” said Mr Dowden.

Councillors also agreed the homes were not needed because the authority’s five-year housing land supply has now been met.

Another reason for rejecting the plans was because the application site is classified as in the countryside in the present Borough Local Plan and its replacement which is yet to get Government backing.