A PUBLIC inquiry has been ordered into proposals to increase the size of a Hampshire housing scheme that was approved last year.

Churchill Retirement Ltd was given permission for 36 flats in South Street, Hythe, but later applied for consent to build 43 apartments on the same site.

Earlier this year the new application was turned down by New Forest District Council.

Churchill lodged an appeal with the government’s planning inspectorate, which has decided to hold a public inquiry into the £6 million proposal.

No date for the hearing has been set.

The scheme is part of a wider redevelopment project that also includes a new £7 million Lidl supermarket in the village centre.

Churchill’s original application for 36 flats was approved by the council in May last year.

Outlining its decision to reject the latest application the authority said the flats’ “poor design” would harm the character and appearance of the Hythe Conservation Area.

It also said the three-storey element of the proposed development would be “unduly dominant” in an area characterised by two-storey buildings.

One of the South Street residents who objected to the new proposal was Tracy Pittilo, whose letter to the council said: “The developers are trying to squeeze even more people into a small, overcrowded space which will be vastly over-developed.”

Fellow protester John Elliott added: “The initial planning application was for a two-storey block, which was in keeping with nearly all the surrounding properties.

“The revised application to increase this to three storeys is not.”

A report prepared by council planning officers said the scheme approved last year would benefit the village by replacing a visually unsympathetic development with one that was more appropriate to its setting.

It added: “While aspects of the development now proposed would be similar to the previously approved scheme, there would be some significant differences.

“The development as a whole would now have a more overtly three-storey character.

“Hythe has a strong two-storey character and a large building predominantly three-storeys high would be visually quite intrusive alongside the more historic buildings in the conservation area.”

But Churchill has defended its application to increase the number of flats from 36 to 43.

Andrew Burgess, the company’s group land and planning director, said: “The scheme will provide much-needed housing for older people in Hythe, enabling them to

downsize and free up more family housing for younger people.

“It will also provide high quality, secure, self-contained apartments in landscaped grounds as well as creating jobs and providing benefits to the local economy.

“We believe it will make a valuable contribution to the area.”