VILLAGERS are taking legal action over the granting of planning permission for a new wetland habitat in the South Downs National Park.

People in the Warnford and West Meon area are angry about the proposal for Whitewool Farm.

It has conditional permission for major engineering work to create the habitat as a way of capturing nitrates. Developers elsewhere will be able buy credits in those nitrates to offset the impact of their scheme.

Permission is subject to a legal agreement and further ecological survey work which has yet to be received by the national park.

Villagers say they were unaware of the scheme and are concerned the new habitat could impact on the River Meon. Only the immediate neighbours were informed.

Mark Rogers, chairman of Warnford Parish Meeting, wrote to Tim Slaney, director of planning at South Downs National Park Authority, and said the planners had not followed the correct procedure.

Mr Slaney had earlier written to Mr Rogers: "This scheme necessitated a planning application only because of the ground works proposed, rather than the creation of the new wetland habitat which does not constitute ‘development.’ Were it not for the ground works, then the habitat could be created outside of any formal planning process and not be subject to any planning controls. As a result of a planning application being required, we have had the ability to impose planning conditions and requirements in a legal agreement which includes monitoring and managing the scheme to ensure its success.

"The planning committee report shows that a wide range of both statutory and non-statutory consultees were consulted and it was clear there were different considerations and views. Without responding in great detail to your comments about landscape sensitivity, these are issues which are covered in paragraphs 8.17 to 8.23 of the report and I feel Members had a good understanding of these, and the views of consultees, to reach a decision.

"Turning to the public consultation of the application, its publication and notification followed statute, national and our own procedures. I understand your concern about not having had the opportunity to submit comments, however, I do not consider that there has been a failure in the planning process."