HART council tax payers have been hit hard in the pocket after the council's decision to refuse a planning application in Fleet was overruled at an appeal.

The Planning Inspectorate, an executive arm of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, overruled Hart's decision to refuse permission for 12 two-storey homes at 28 Florence Road, Fleet.

In allowing the appeal, inspector Dannie Onn awarded costs against Hart — a fee that could run into thousands of pounds.

Martin Grant Homes, of Dorking, Surrey, had an application to build 11 homes refused in June 2001, and lodged an appeal.

A month later the company came back with plans to build 12 homes on the site. Again they were refused, and the firm lodged another appeal.

In September Martin Grant applied to build five two-storey houses with garages served by private drives. Again Hart threw out the proposals.

But in an appeal heard earlier this month the inspector ruled against the council.

Hart planning officials are furious the inspector went against them — they believe the homes will cause unwanted noise for neighbours, destroy their privacy and create traffic chaos.

They also argue that the proposals go against the Local Plan's requirement for smaller, more affordable homes.

Viv Evans, Hart's chief development control officer, said: "We are extremely disappointed that we were not backed by the inspector."

He added that around 30 per cent of planning appeals are allowed.

The decision means the developer can demolish the bungalow and outbuildings on the site to build the 12-house plan.

Hart received 13 letters of objection from residents outlining fears of nearby properties losing privacy and light, loss of trees and an adverse effect on wildlife.

All the letters voiced concerns about increased noise and road safety fears.

But Mr Onn referred to the Government's policy of higher density backland development in allowing the appeal and awarding costs against Hart.

Trees would be protected and there would be no harm to the "varied character" of the area.

He added: "Regarding the increase in traffic, I am satisfied there will be no harm by reason of increased noise levels."

But Coun Colin Hazell, Hart's planning portfolio holder, said: "I am saddened the inspector has overridden the concerns of local householders and the decision of the district council in this case."