The Government Office for the South-East (GOSE) this week ordered Rushmoor Council not to grant planning permission for the controversial development, citing concerns over the number of affordable homes being proposed.

The council had previously agreed the principle of building a housing estate on the former Farnborough College of Technology site but had asked the developer, Barratt Southern Counties, to prepare improved designs before final approval could be given.

A planning inquiry, booked by Barratt before the council decision, is still scheduled to go ahead at Aldershot's Princes Hall on July 24.

However GOSE has now directed the council not to grant planning permission to allow Secretary of State John Prescott time to consider whether or not he should call in the application for his own determination.

Concern appears to centre on whether the authority has negotiated a sufficient level of affordable housing to meet government objectives.

Keith Holland, Rushmoor's head of planning, said: "The council has been asked to provide more information on the justification for the 15% of affordable housing secured on the site.

"It seems that GOSE feels that the council could have argued for more affordable housing on the site.

"We are putting together an explanation for GOSE and will be submitting it soon."

Angry residents flooded GOSE's Guildford offices with letters and e-mails following the council's decision this month.

And they have welcomed the agency's decision to step in.

Lee Dawson, chairman of campaign group Aldershot Manor Park Lobby for the Environment, said: "To me, that sounds like very good news."

AMPLE was concerned that Barratt may resolve its design differences with the council before the public inquiry starts.

The group, which packed out Rushmoor's development control committee meeting on June 12, believes the housing estate will be out of character with the surrounding area and ruin what is a designated conservation area.

AMPLE member Johanna Lance commented: "This has given us fresh hope.

"We have always believed that if it gets to independent arbitration or a public inquiry we will have a chance because it will get looked at properly. We still believe that will be the case.

"If we just save half the site it will make a large difference to the park and to the area around Church Lane East."

She added: "We are very, very glad (about GOSE's decision). As long as Barratts don't get planning permission they will not pull out of the public inquiry."