A MAJOR housebuilder is facing demands for an apology after claiming that Hart Council is backing its plans to build homes on farmland near Fleet.

The Berkeley Group's claim, made in a glossy brochure distributed to scores of homes in the town, has been dismissed as "completely misleading" by Coun. Sean Holden.

He described it as a deliberate attempt to convince local people that the council is working in partnership with the company, which wants to build about 260 homes at Hitches Lane.

"The council has nothing to do with this speculative project, but that is not how Berkeley has presented it," said Coun. Holden, who represents Fleet West.

"Some of us have already been contacted by residents who think the council is engaged in selling them down the river."

His fellow Fleet West Councillor, Richard Hunt, was equally scathing about the 26-page brochure.

‘Cynical'

He described it as a cynical attempt by Berkeley to force the pace on development in Hitches Lane for their own financial benefit.

"People don't want development there, and we must fight the encroachment on our green fields whenever we can," he added.

Not only does the council want an apology, but Viv Evans, its development control chief, has asked for one as well.

In a pamphlet accompanying the brochure, Berkeley has named him as the officer the public should write to with any comments about the blueprint.

But the two councillors say his name was used without either his knowledge or consent.

The farmland at the centre of the row has been included in the council's blueprint for development - but will be used only if it runs out of housing land elsewhere.

Berkeley's brochure is seen as a move to put pressure on the council to release the land now.

In an e-mail Adrian Brown, Berkeley Community Villages development director, admits that Mr Evans' name was used without his permission.

But he claims that the council was "repeatedly advised" that the company was preparing a development brief and community plan for the site.

Mr Brown goes on to defend the company's decision to distribute the brochure on the grounds that the site is included in the local plan.

"We see our brief as a positive step in attempting to demonstrate Berkeley's desire to deal comprehensively with the planning of the Hart valley," he says.

Mr Brown adds: "I am happy to explore any measure that may assist in overcoming genuine public scepticism that this is the start of something more sinister."

The pictures show:

** A scene from the Berkeley brochure which upset Hart councillors. Coun. Sean Holden sees it as "a cynical attempt by Berkeley to force the pace of development."

** Berkeley's master plan to develop land west of Hitches Lane, Fleet. The "community village" includes 300 homes on 25 acres, with nine sports pitches for football, rugby and cricket, as well as a 53 acre country park.