RESIDENTS in Chandler's Ford are split over controversial plans for a 24,000 sq ft Waitrose superstore at Fryern Hill.

More than 3,500 replied to a survey dropped into homes in the Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury areas - a far greater response than any recent test of public opinion in the borough.

Almost 45 per cent signalled their support for the Waitrose scheme while 43.5 per cent opposed the proposal. The other responses indicated no strong views either way.

A decision on the application is now likely to be taken at special meetings of the Chandler's Ford and Hiltingbury local area committee and the full council.

Originally the two meetings were to have been held in the council chamber at the Eastleigh Civic Offices with the council meeting immediately after the area committee.

But this brought protests from local people who called for the crucial decision-making to be kept in their area.

Now the council has had a change of heart and both meetings will be held at the Methodist Church in Winchester Road.

Local area committee chairman Grahame Smith said: "It is clear from the comments of the local residents there is a strong view that this application should be determined locally at the Methodist Church."

Mr Smith was pleased with the high response to the consultation exercise and added: "The local area committee is obliged to consider each planning application on its merits and to take into account the appropriate planning guidance."

Tory leader Councillor Godfrey Olson, who had pressed for the public to be consulted, said: "I am delighted with the response."