CONTROVERSIAL plans to build more than 40 homes on former green belt land in Hampshire have been approved following a public inquiry.

Pennyfarthing Homes lodged an appeal after its application to develop a site at Milford on Sea was rejected by New Forest District Council, which had received more than 200 objections to the scheme.

Hampshire wildlife expert Chris Packham, who lives in the Forest, also spoke out against the proposal.

The 57-year-old Springwatch presenter said: “Every last space must be fought for because we are so close to the point of no return.

“It’s tempting to think that in the grand scheme of things some trees, bushes, bugs and birds in Milford don’t really matter, but this destruction is happening everywhere.”

An action group called School Lane and Manor Road (SLAM) was formed to fight the proposal to build 42 homes on farmland near Milford Primary School.

In November last year more than 100 placard-waving protesters marched through the village to highlight their opposition to the proposed development.

SLAM spokesperson Monica Murfitt said: “This development would concrete over large swathes of former green belt land, destroy much of its precious wildlife and do almost nothing to meet the need for affordable housing in Milford.”

Pennyfarthing lodged an appeal against the council’s decision and a public inquiry into the application was held at Lymington Town Hall in February.

The council claimed the percentage of affordable housing and low-cost market housing was too low.

But planning inspector Alex Hutson has approved the proposal, saying the applicant had shown the proposal would provide an “acceptable” level of affordable housing.

The site is near nature conservation areas but the inspector said the impact of the scheme could be reduced by mitigation measures.

He added: “The proposal is in the public interest as the appeal site is allocated (for housing) in the Local Plan and a number of new dwellings would be provided in an area where there is an agreed shortfall.”

Mr Hutson said the provision of playing fields, allotments and footpaths would “preserve the openness” of the green belt.

“There may be some brownfield land or other land suitable for development in the area, but this is somewhat immaterial given the allocated status of the appeal site,” he said.

“Though the proposal would inevitably alter the character of the site this would be seen in the context of the existing settlement of Milford on Sea.”

Last night a SLAM spokesman described the inspector’s decision as “hugely disappointing”.