THE Manor Park development, one of Aldershot's most controversial housing proposals in recent years, has finally been given the green light.
It has taken more than 12 months, numerous council meetings and a public inquiry, but councillors have finally given in to pressure from a government which is desperate to fulfil the need for housing in the south-east.
Residents and interest groups filled the public gallery at Wednesday's meeting of Rushmoor's development control committee, hoping that a last-ditch document distributed by pressure group AMPLE would make councillors think again.
AMPLE supporters wore bright-yellow ‘Council Watch' badges in protest against what they regard as being a less than fair planning process.
The Manor Park saga began when developer Barratt Southern Counties bought the land in a £8.7million deal last September.
The firm originally wanted to build a 139-home estate on the annexe, prompting widespread anger among people living around Manor Park.
Barratts has now reduced the number of houses to 124, with a mixture of two-, three-and four-bedroom homes, together with one- and two- bedroom flats.
There will be a new access to the site from Church Lane East, from a new roundabout at the junction with Brockenhurst Road.
Before Wednesday's meeting, AMPLE sent a detailed document to all councillors outlining further reasons why they believe the application should be turned down.
The evening kicked off with Cllr Patrick Kirby claiming that the application should be deferred until a later date to give the committee more time to consider the latest submissions.
However, the discussion was allowed to continue, with Rushmoor's head of planning Keith Holland giving his response to the latest claims of AMPLE.
The group said that the vote would misrepresent the residents as only two Aldershot councillors would be present at the meeting.
Mr Holland responded by saying that the committee represents the borough as a whole and the council had never sought to identify members by towns.
The floor was passed to development control manager Daryl Phillips, who gave a brief introduction to the Manor Park proposals.
He said: "We all accept that this site and development has been very contentious but the matters have been fully explored at a public inquiry.
"Obviously, I believe that the public inquiry fully vindicates our decision."
Cllr Neville Dewey was the first member to address the room, and he started by saying that the proposals had come a long way since the initial application.
He added: "I am slightly concerned that the tone of the submission from AMPLE is one of threat. At the end of the day we are councillors for the borough of Rushmoor. We are not here as representatives of Farnborough or Aldershot."
Almost every committee member gave their view on the matter, with the general feeling that the council's hands had been tied by powers from above, and they had little choice but to give the plans the go-ahead.
Cllr Pat Kirby summed up the mood, saying: "From what has been said tonight we are in a position that we are having to make decisions with people over our heads.
"We have to congratulate the officers on having achieved a great improvement on what we were originally confronted with.
"I think that some of the responses (from AMPLE) were a misjudgement rather than a threat.
"My only problem about this design that we have in front of us is the blocks (of houses). I still feel this is excessive."
He was joined in voting against by Cllrs John Starling and Charlie Fraser-Fleming, who was particularly angry that the committee was unable to truly represent the people who had voted them in.
Janet Leggett, of AMPLE, said that although the group was saddened by the result, they were not surprised.
"We feel it is regrettable that many of the councillors who voted for the application excused their decision by blaming government policies.
"The council officers used a lot of spin in connection to the inspector's remarks from the public enquiry on the issue of design, but failed to adhere to her advice.
"We will continue to complain to the local government ombudsman and talk further with solicitors with the aim of seeking a judicial review — the fight goes on."
A spokesman for Barratt Homes Ltd said: "We have worked very closely with the local authority and the planners to achieve a development that is right for this important site.
"There is still work to be done regarding conditions attached to the consent but we have no doubt that the development will ultimately be a great social and economic asset to Aldershot."