THE battle to build a £15million hospice on green belt land will be decided at a six-day public inquiry.

Government planning inspectors have pencilled in the lengthy hearing, which is expected to take place later this year, to reach a final verdict on Havens Hospices’ bid to build on land off Belton Way West, Leigh.

The proposals were rejected by Southend Council last year, but the charity has now officially lodged its appeal against the decision with Whitehall.

Mike King, chairman of campaign group Save Our Green Belt, said objectors would gear up to oppose the plans again.

He said: “It is baffling why Havens continues to push this loony idea, when it has attracted so much opposition.

“They are seriously damaging the credibility of what is a very worthy cause set up for all the right reasons.

“We will sit down and put together our case against these crazy proposals.”

Havens wants to build a new 16-bedroom base for its Fair Havens hospice because it believes the current facility, in Westcliff, is too cramped.

It fears it could be shut down by the Care Quality Commission in future years if it does not move to more suitable purpose-built premises.

But councillors accused the charity of using “emotional blackmail” to try to secure planning permission for the protected site, in Leigh, and voted unanimously to reject the proposals in October.

Havens vowed to appeal the decision immediately.

The Planning Inspectorate aims to resolve most public inquiries within 29 weeks, meaning the hearing is likely to be held before the end of July.

Both Havens and the council could demand the other pay their legal costs if they win, although most applications are not successful unless one party is seen to have acted “frivolously”.

Andy Smith, the chief executive of Havens, said: “We have not taken the decision to go to appeal lightly, but we are in a critical position.

“There is an urgent need for our specialist care; care we alone are wholly dedicated to provide.

“Going to appeal will mean that our plans will be considered by an independent planning inspector, who will make a decision following a thorough examination of the facts and evidence presented in our application, the needs of our patients and families, our extensive site search and the lack of any suitably alternative site.”