PLANS for 14 new homes in the back yard and car park of Romsey's White Horse Hotel have been overwhelmingly rejected by councillors.

The scheme drawn up by Romsey Developments Limited had also included proposals to convert the hotel's historic stable block into six office units.

But there was virtually no support for it at this week's meeting of Test Valley Borough Council's southern area planning committee despite assurances from the hotel's owners that there was no hidden plan to change the use of the White Horse and cease using it as a hotel.

The applicants' agent, Martin Hawthorne, told the meeting at the council's Duttons Road offices: "My clients have signed a 50-year lease with the hotel's operator and he is someone who has got a remarkable record of turning these hotels into viable concerns."

He added that the scheme had been carefully designed not to block any views of Romsey Abbey and disputed an objection from the council's design and conservation officer on the grounds that, with a frontage on to the Lortemore Place car park, it would "compete with the Market Square frontage" to the detriment of the town.

Abbey ward councillors, Clive Collier and Sally Lamb, both voiced strong opposition to the scheme. Councillor Collier commented: "Not only will this have an impact on the White Horse, but a huge impact on other buildings including St John's House. There are sufficient grounds for refusal without considering the viability of the hotel."

And Mrs Lamb said: "There are the businesses, the residents, the Abbey and King John's House and they would all feel some effect."

In summing up, committee chairman Bruce Cowan referred to the conclusion in planning officer Mark Wyatt's report, which suggested the "design, scale and massing of the proposed buildings are out of character with the historic core of Romsey and would neither preserve nor enhance this part of Romsey Conservation Area."

He added: "We are just not happy with it and we feel Romsey deserves better." The scheme had sparked objections from the council's design and conservation and landscape officers and from the Hampshire County Council rights of way department, the Test Valley architects' panel, Romsey Town Council and the Romsey and District Society

In addition, there were 10 letters of objection from residents and traders, citing such things as access and parking problems, a risk to pedestrian safety, a lack of need for more housing and over-development of the site.

But there was some support from the environment Agency and from the hotel's new operator , who said the scheme would "greatly improve the built environment" around the hotel.