Rushmoor Council will be defending its decision to turn down a planning application by Barratt Southern Counties to build 128 homes on the former Farnborough College of Technology site.

Barratt submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate after Rushmoor refused the original plans to build 139 homes.

Stephanie Chivers, the inspector chairing the inquiry, said the main issue would be that of whether the development would have a detrimental effect on the appearance and character of the surrounding area — which includes a conservation area.

In his opening statement Christopher Katkowski QC, acting for Barratt, listed the reasons why the development should go ahead.

He said: "It's a previously developed site within an urban area. It is on a site that is in a highly attainable location. It is a site which, as far as we understand, meets the criteria of PPG3 (planning guidance) and so it comes as no surprise that the council recognises that it is suitable for residential development."

He continued: "It is our case that the plans are sensitive to the design of the surrounding area and, in the context of making the best use of a site within PPG3, that we are perfectly satisfied."

Mr Katkowski continued by briefly addressing the objections put forward by AMPLE, a group of residents who have been campaigning against the application.

He said: "AMPLE has taken a much broader attack. It seems to be an attack on the council as much as the appellant, and much of their case is based on the fact that they have failed to acknowledge that this is a site that is acceptable for housing."

Craig Howell-Williams, representing Rushmoor, listed why the planning applications had been refused and opposed Barratt's claims they did not know why amended plans had been rejected.

He concluded: "The council's position was made absolutely clear. This is a sensitive and prominent site within a conservation area. I don't believe that is in dispute but it's important to emphasise.

"The school buildings have now been demolished. While the old buildings did nothing to enhance the area, the council now expects any new development to do that."

He added: "In particular our criticisms relate to the apartment blocks. They are monolithic and heavy in appearance. The design is unhelpful in reducing their effect. There is also a negative impact on the surrounding area."

AMPLE is being represented at the proceedings by five of its members.

Chairman Lee Dawson claimed the views of residents had not been fully aired.

He said: "Our fear is that once a decision is reached it will be irreversible. Therefore you will want to hear everything before any consideration is given.

"AMPLE feels this inquiry will give us the opportunity to put forward views that would otherwise be overlooked and not considered in any decision taken."

While Rushmoor is fighting Barratt's plans on the basis of problems with the design, AMPLE will be arguing against the proposals on different issues, including highway and environmental matters.

The inquiry, at the Princes Hall in Aldershot, is set to conclude on July 26.