BATTLE lines are set to be drawn over green belt in Benfleet as Castle Point Council gets ready to defend the land on appeal.

Controversial plans to build 165 homes on fields between Sadlers Farm roundabout and Glebelands were thrown out in April.

Now, developer Fox Land and Property will be going head to head with the council to try and convince the Government’s Planning Inspectorate to allow the site to be built on.

Planning Inspectorate John Felgate, who will be hearing the proceedings, has currently set aside seven days to hear all the evidence for the appeal which will begin next week.

It is the first time a planning application for the site has been bought to appeal for around 30 years.

Steve Rogers, head of regeneration and chief planning officer at the council, said: “The appeal is scheduled to last seven days at the moment. However these things are, by their nature, evolutionary and it could be concluded more quickly if the Inspector has heard all the evidence.

“The council will go first and say why the planning permission was refused, and our evidence will be tested by the appellant. They will go next and say why the plans should be allowed and we will then test their evidence. After that the inspector will then ask if anyone else would like to voice their opinions. This is just my guess, but I would expect a decision could be made by around Easter.

“Appeals are quite a common part of the planning system, but for this particular site we have not seen an appeal for some ten years.”

This comes after the Echo revealed Fox Land and Property is looking to exploit a legal loophole in which they claim the council has failed to officially define green belt land in its planning blueprint, sparking fears over a building free-for-all on the borough’s green spaces.

Steve Guest, co-founder of the Glebelands and Sadlers Green Belt campaign group, who will be speaking at the inquiry, said: “We’re quietly confident this will not go ahead. It is worrying the decision is now in Government hands, but while they encourage development, the Government has been consistent with its rules not to allow building on green belt.

“Building at Glebelands would leave no border between Basildon and Castle Point, you wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other. It’s an inappropriate place to develop, right near a busy six-lane carriageway and this land should be protected.

“But if the company are trying to find loopholes then that suggests to us they are on the back foot.”

The appeal proceedings will begin at 10am on December 11 and will take place at the council offices in Kiln Road, Thundersley.