PEOPLE power hopes to win through this week as a four-day showdown over plans to build on a wildlife haven starts today.

Campaigners against proposals to turn Barn Hall recreation area into a housing estate will battle Gleeson Homes during the public inquiry in the Basildon Centre.

Yesterday, members of Wickford North Green Action Group joined Billericay and District MP John Baron to stage a demonstration outside the offices of the Department of Communities and Local Government, in Westminster.

A petition of 3,500 names was presented to Hazel Blears, Communities Minister, who will have the final say over the plans to build about 200 homes following the inquiry. Campaign leader Peter Boynes, of Station Avenue, Wickford, said: "If this Government really means what it says when it talks of listening to local people, there can be only one outcome - no building on Barn Hall and preservation of this open, green countryside.

Mr Baron added: "Local democracy must prevail. Residents, local councillors and I are united in our wish to preserve this countryside for the benefit of local people.

"Let us hope the Government listens. The petition clearly illustrates the strength of local opinion, which should override the wishes of politicians and bureaucrats sitting in London." A letter from Mr Baron to the minister read: "Preservation would also protect the environment and safeguard this haven for wildlife."

Barn Hall is currently land set aside for future housing provision if Basildon Council fails to meet Government housing targets.

But the council hopes to designate it as green belt.

Gleeson launched an appeal after the council rejected its planning application for the estate last year. The council will also defend that decision during the inquiry.

Council leader Malcolm Buckley said: "Our intention is quite clear.

"We intend to return the land at Barn Hall to green belt status, so it can be protected for future generations.

"We have identified enough land for housing without the need to develop green areas."