DEVELOPERS have been forced to halt the demolition of a former social club that was built on top of a Quaker burial ground.

Civic chiefs approved plans to replace the Fordingbridge Club with eight homes and a shop - but said strict conditions must be met before work could start.

Poole-based Beechvale Construction recently bought the land from the previous owner and began to bulldoze the old club "on health and safety grounds".

But the company has been been told to stop work by New Forest District Council in a move that has left shoppers and traders staring at a half-demolished building on a rubbish-strewn site.

Now residents are calling for a speedy resolution to the dispute amid fears it could drag on for weeks or even months.

Cllr Alan Lewendon, a member of Fordingbridge Town Council, said: "The club is currently an even bigger eyesore than it was before.

"It's next to the main car park in the town centre and the current problem is something we could do without, particularly in the summer when the area is full of tourists."

A council spokesman said: "The site is located in a conservation area and is of historical and archaeological significance.

"Permission for residential development was granted subject to a number of conditions, including details of landscaping, archaeological work and surface water drainage.

"The developer has been asked not to carry out any further work until all the details have been agreed by the planning authority."

The site is a former graveyard used by the Quakers, who are thought to have arrived in the town in the mid-1600s.

Fordingbridge councillor Ann Sevier said: "I was horrified to discover that planning conditions imposed to protect the history of the town and the site itself had not been complied with.

"I'm very pleased that a Stop Notice has been issued."

Beechvale said it began work because it wanted to clear and secure the site, which had been targeted by squatters and arsonists and was already an eyesore.

Owner Jason Hacker said: "The reason for the premature demolition was health and safety - the building was in a dangerous state and falling down.

"After being told to stop I contacted the council and tried to explain about the squatters, the fires, and the fact that neighbours were pleased to see the building was finally going, but the person I spoke to wasn't having any of it.

"We're now in June and nothing's been agreed. I'm dealing with 19 conditions relating to things such as structural drawings, drainage drawings and planting schemes."

The housing scheme was approved by the council in July last year, when the site belonged to another company.