A PUBLIC inquiry has been ordered into controversial plans to replace a former New Forest police station with 32 retirement plans.

Churchill Retirement Living has lodged an appeal after being refused permission to redevelop the redundant Hampshire Constabulary site in Southampton Road, Lymington.

District councillors rejected the scheme last month after going against the advice of planning officers.

Speakers at a meeting of the planning committee said Lymington already had a huge number of retirement flats - many of which remained unsold - and needed affordable homes for young people.

Cllr Malcolm Wade said: "We can't turn the New Forest into a giant care home."

Other members criticised the design of the proposed development. They included Cllr Maureen Holding, a former chairman of the council, who said: "This has gone from being a police station to looking like a prison."

The application sparked almost 80 letters of objection and a protest petition signed by more than 1,400 people.

It was debated by the council last October but was deferred pending talks between council officers and the applicant.

Churchill agreed to pay £970,000 towards the cost of providing social housing in the district and councillors were recommended to approve the scheme at the December meeting of the planning committee.

But the scheme came under fire from objectors.

Don Mackenzie, representing the Lymington Society, described the proposed development as a "monolithic block". He added that 12 parking spaces for 32 flats was "simply laughable".

Andy Ash-Vie, representing Lymington and Pennington Town Council, added: "It's ugly, overbearing and out of character."

Cllr Ash-Vie claimed the district council would "debase local democracy" if it approved the application, adding: "Please, I beg you, no more retirement homes."

But Churchill has lodged an appeal, which will be heard at a public inquiry.

A statement outlining the grounds of its appeal says the site is in a highly accessible location, making it suitable for older people, and will also make a positive and sustainable contribution to the local economy.

It adds: "The proposal is a result of comprehensive engagement, pre-application discussions and an evolving design process.

"This has resulted in a proposal that provides high-quality design which accords with the character of the area whilst meeting the needs of the future occupiers.

"The design of the proposal will make a positive contribution to the character of the area."