Plan to build 1000 houses on fields that ‘inspired’ Jane Austen

General views of the potential development area near Alton
General views of the potential development area near Alton - Ollie Thompson/Solent News & Photo Agency
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A row has erupted over plans to build more than 1,000 new houses in the countryside that “inspired” Jane Austen’s novels.

Residents in a countryside hamlet are campaigning to stop an area of green belt land where Austen regularly walked from becoming a “red brick jungle”.

A new estate is planned for the land at Neatham Manor Farm in Alton, five miles from Austen’s home in Chawton, where 1,250 homes could be built.

But residents living near the site have called the plans “immoral”, saying they would concrete over “completely unspoilt farmland”.

They claim the development is “not a good advert for Jane Austen’s town” and is a “violation [of a] beautiful stretch of countryside”.

Earlier this year, East Hampshire district council announced a proposed development on the farmland, after which Abigail Hills, 42, set up a “Save Neatham Down” campaign with her husband, Gary, 51.

Dr June Chatfield OBE, one of the campaigners, on the site of the proposed development
Dr June Chatfield OBE, one of the campaigners, on the site of the proposed development - Ollie Thompson/Solent News & Photo Agency

The couple live on the edge of the proposed development site and Mrs Hills said: “We first found out at the tail end of January, beginning of February.

“The consultation part of the planning was issued on 22 December and obviously being Christmas time, we didn’t see any notifications on it.

“When they told us, we saw the scale of the development and the loss of green fields.”

The Neatham resident said she believes the developers “strategically” applied for permission during this busy period so it would go unnoticed.

“For us, one of the big things was the loss of wildlife on the downs,” she added. “The destruction of that level of green space seems quite frankly immoral. Jane Austen lived in Chawton but she would have walked the fields.”

English author Jane Austen (1775 - 1817)
English author Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) - Stock Montage/ARCHIVE PHOTOS

The development has seen an outcry from residents, who want to save the “completely unspoilt farmland”.

A total of 1,278 residents have objected to the plan, surpassing the proposed number of new houses.

Ms Hills said the area did not have “the infrastructure to cope with this number of houses”.

She said: “The schools are full to capacity and there are no plans to put additional schools in the area.

“The loss of the green space will also result in not having the dark night sky. We don’t want the houses, it’s not appropriate for the downs.”

Jane Austen wrote her books in Chawton cottage, which is just five miles away from the fields. Visitors can attend the house which is described as the “birthplace of her six beloved novels”, including Pride and Prejudice.

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