Clive Hughes has backed a bid to build 60 flats on the former Rose Farm Dairy in the heart of the town centre.

Hart Council threw out the plan but Mr Hughes has now ruled the development can go ahead following a two-day public inquiry last month.

It means Guildford-based Barratt Southern Counties has the green light to demolish the former dairy buildings, which have been vacant for several years, and build the one and two-bedroom flats in a landscaped courtyard on land between Fleet Road and Albert Street.

Sixteen of the apartments will be for social housing — likely to be housing association for rental or part ownership —in two storeys over four new shops fronting Fleet Road.

The rest would be open market two-bedroom flats in a three-storey terraced block running in an L-shape through the centre of the site.

Each would have separate kitchens, double second bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms, with either a balcony or ground floor patio.

The town centre plan also includes 56 parking spaces, storage for 120 cycles and a play area.

Hart councillors came up with seven reasons for refusing the scheme when they discussed it in November.

They feared the scale, mass, height and prominence of the flats would be out of scale and character with other developments in Albert Street.

Councillors were also concerned that the three-storey scheme had no wheelchair access, as there were no lifts and pointed out there was no adequate access into the site for refuse collection vehicles.

But in his inquiry report, Mr Hughes said he could see no problems with the scheme.

“I consider that the development will be of a high standard of design and that it will have a positive impact on the character of the area,” his report states.

Mr Hughes said the development had been “carefully designed” and would result in the removal of an industrial use and provide a high-density housing develop-ment close to the town centre.

“The development would also provide a significant amount of affordable housing as well as providing financial contributions towards highway works in the vicinity,” the report adds.

Mr Hughes also said he did not think the development would appear overbearing or result in a significant loss of amenity to nearby residents.

“Overall it seems to me that there are significant benefits of this scheme.”

The scheme was backed by the Fleet Town Centre Group, which said the development offered an ideal opportunity to regenerate and enhance that end of the town centre.

“Hart is badly in need of affordable dwellings and this site offers a unique opportunity to provide low-rise flats/town houses within a short walk of the town centre and the railway station,” states the group’s letter of support.

Fleet and Crookham Civic Society also welcomed the plan, saying it hoped this site would set a precedent for future town centre conversions.