HUNDREDS of residents are expected to pack a meeting over plans to build more than 5,000 homes and community facilities near ancient woodland in Hampshire.

Tonight Eastleigh Borough Council will indicate the area to the north and east of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak as the preferred location for a new development which could see 5,200 new homes, shops, schools, open spaces and a new access road north of Allbrook, Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.

Dozens of residents will have their say throughout the evening but the final decision on the plans could be made as late as this winter, after the council has considered the results of surveys aimed at showing the impact that the development could have on transport and the environment.

As previously reported by the Daily Echo, the plans have sparked a fierce debate between residents and naturalists because of the proximity of the proposed development to ancient woodland such as Upper Barn and Crowdhill Copse woods.

The woods are owned by the woodland conservation charity Woodland Trust.

Phil Truluck, Woodland Trust site manager, said: “We’ve owned these woods for over 25 years and are in the process of gradually restoring them for the benefit of wildlife and local people.

“Any nearby major development without adequate protection measures could undermine our restoration work, and further fragment these precious wildlife habitats.

“We also cannot see a way that the accompanying relief road could be delivered between the two woods which we would find acceptable.

“There just isn’t the space.”

Plans, which are known as options B and C in the borough’s Local Plan, have also been objected to by hundreds of residents who set up an action group called Action against Destructive Development Eastleigh (ADD).

They argue that the council has chosen “the worst possible place in the borough” to build the development.

Mark Baylis, 64, member of ADD, said: “ We have always accepted as inevitable that there will be more housing.

“But any development should preserve the character of the area, respecting the fact that it includes much of the borough’s most important and sensitive wildlife sites.

“The plan would create a large urban sprawl in the most environmentally sensitive parts of the borough and away from existing public transport and motorway links.

“It would also maximise car use.”

Members of the ADD group will also be talking tonight.

Mr Baylis added: “We urge the council leadership to stop pretending it has all the answers - it does not. There is still time to get a good outcome for Eastleigh, but that requires genuine consultation and all people with an interest in the future of the borough to work together.”

Eastleigh MP Mims Davies, who previously visited Upper Barn and Crowdhill Copse woods with members of the Woodland Trust, said: “Planning is a quasi-judicial process that is purely down to the decision making and ultimately the responsibility of the local council and its leadership, meaning that it is highly unusual that Members of Parliament intervene in individual planning applications.

“I feel the ongoing message on behalf of my constituents at the next council meeting and throughout the emerging Local Plan process, to those with responsibility for these matters, must be to get a grip of the concerns of the Eastleigh constituency residents.

“I will readily speak out each time I get complaints from my constituents about being locked out who are unimpressed by the process.”

Tonight the council will also indicate its preferred location for another development of 1,704 homes set to be built within the borough. When contacted by the Daily Echo, Eastleigh Borough Council declined to comment.

The meeting will start at 7pm at the Kings Community Church, Upper Northam Road, Hedge End.

Those who would like to have their say can register on the night.