Hart Council officers have informally spoken to landowner QinetiQ about housing on the site and the firm has shown interest in exploring the idea and is even prepared to fund assessments.

The moves come as Hart undertakes work on a First Alteration to its Local Plan development blueprint, due to be ready by April 2004.

The council is under pressure from the government to show it can deliver its promised housing target and as a result it is looking at the potential of redeveloping the DERA part of Pyestock.

A report to Hart's cabinet states that the 107-acre site has previously been used by the Ministry of Defence for research and development and is almost entirely developed land.

The site also includes an engine testing company and a relatively recent office block. Both premises are still being used.

It is currently earmarked for commercial development in Hart's Replacement Local Plan and QinetiQ has been preparing a master plan for suitable redevelopment of the site.

This plan includes a mix of storage and distribution uses, large-scale office and staff accommodation, new research and development uses and a new hotel.

But the report said officers have informally raised the issue of exploring the potential for a residential development on the site.

It states the site could provide between 1,000 and 2,000 homes, creating ‘a small, self-contained community with appropriate supporting facilities'.

The site's relationship to the neighbouring commercial uses within the QinetiQ complex and nearby Farnborough Airfield would also be considered.

But the report warns that the land is surrounded by several important nature conservation sites and is close to the Thames Basin Heaths proposed Special Protection Area for Birds.

However, it also points out that the site is close to junction 4a of the M3 and initial discussions have revealed interest in exploring the option.

QinetiQ says it is prepared to fund a number of assessments, including traffic, ecological, landscape and noise impacts.

The report, drawn up by Hart planning chiefs Ron Percival and Viv Evans, says the council should view the potential of Pyestock as a possible replacement site for Dilly Lane in Hartley Wintney, where plans to build about 200 homes are going slower than anticipated.

The report calls on Hart cabinet members to widen the scope of the First Alteration to the Local Plan to include the Pyestock site for a comprehensive residential community capable of delivering at least 150 homes by 2006.

Cllr Stephen Parker, who presented the report to the cabinet, pointed out that the Pyestock site is already developed and therefore preferable to greenfield sites.

He also said it was important to have some potential reserve development sites for the future so the council would have the choice of where to build if needed.

Cllr Parker also warned that if the government feels Hart is not building enough houses it could invoke Policy H4, which could mean having to find sites for 1,500 houses within six months.

But the cabinet voted not to include Pyestock in the First Alteration to the Local Plan by four to three.

However, members could vote the site back in when Hart's full council makes a final decision on Thursday.

Residents can listen to the debate at the council's Fleet headquarters in Harlington Way at 7pm.