DEVELOPERS have dramatically ditched controversial attempts to build 200 homes on this treasured Worcester beauty spot today - in a major victory for campaigners.

Miller Homes has ripped up its proposals to develop Middle Battenhall Farm by abandoning this summer's crunch planning inquiry, saying it does not have the stomach for a "long and expensive" legal scrap.

The shock move has delighted city leaders, who have today described it as "brilliant" after more than two years of battling against it and a record 1,000 public objections.

A planning inquiry over the land's future had been set for this June after Worcester City Council twice resisted attempts for the company to get planning approval.

With the date set for June 23, both sides had already started the expensive process of hiring lawyers to argue their case - but this afternoon the firm surprisingly pulled out.

Miller Homes has cited the newly-approved South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) as a reason for dropping its argument.

The SWDP, which earmarks land for 28,370 properties by 2030, deliberately leaves Middle Battenhall Farm left untouched as a 'green lung' for south Worcester.

Councillor Marc Bayliss, the city council's leader, said: "I am absolutely delighted, it really bears out the council's decision to defend our position.

"Middle Battenhall Farm is not in the SWDP, and now that plan has been adopted it will be even harder for anyone to get permission to develop this site.

"If this really is the end, as I hope it is then I'm delighted."

Councillor Alan Amos, the city's planning committee chairman, said: "This is a major victory, it's absolutely brilliant and music to my ears.

"We have kept alive Worcester's green lung, it's just fantastic."

A council spokesman said: "We have had a formal notification from the planning inspectorate that the appeal has been withdrawn."

The outcome follows a long, bitter campaign against it by the Middle Battenhall Farm Land Action Group, which had described the site as "historic" and urged people to object.

The land features ancient ponds and a 900-year-old Scheduled Monument, leading to objections from a raft of bodies like the Ramblers Association, Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Battlefields Trust and various conservation and heritage experts.

Battenhall campaigner Bill Harrison, who lives in Chase End Close, said: "People around here will be so happy - it's amazing.

"Well done to everyone who fought this, so many people have played a part, it's brilliant."

Miller Homes released a statement today saying it wanted to avoid "a long and expensive legal challenge" now that the SWDP "has been found sound".

Julie Morgan, Miller Homes' strategic planning manager, added: "It's disappointing this process has not been able to deliver new homes at Middle Battenhall Farm.

"Miller Homes believes its proposals would have provided a very suitable, high quality and sustainable contribution to Worcester's housing need."


FOR decades Middle Battenhall Farm has been one of Worcester's most treasured green lungs, but back in 2012 it appeared big changes could be on the way.

After weeks of rumours about the landowners clinching a deal with a mystery developer, in December of that year Miller Homes staged its own public consultation over putting 200 properties on the northern section of the site.

As well as two public consultations it started to engage councillors, went to St Peter's Parish Council and hired an outside PR team to try and get traction with it.

But the concerns were mounting, especially as the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), which was still in the consultation stages itself, had not earmarked the land for new property.

By the time December 2013 came around an outline planning application had been submitted to the city council, with an action group being formed to protest against it.

Over the months objections came in thick and fast - and some very influential ones too.

The Battlefields Trust said the site was of "national heritage importance" as part of the "Worcester 1651 battlefield", saying it must be preserved.

The Battle of Worcester Society said the city's history "could not be treated in such a cavalier fashion", insisting the site had still to be investigated to establish the role it played in the conflict - objecting on that basis.

Rambling groups, dog walkers, heritage experts, conservation lovers all piled in, soon making it the city's most talked-about planning scrap.

But by the time it went to the council's planning committee in May last year an officers' report recommended it be accepted, pointing to the dire need for more homes.

Miller Homes had agreed to hand over £1.2 million for infrastructure improvements and even make 40 per cent of the development affordable housing, as well as creating a nature trail to the Scheduled Monument, in a bid to get the nod.

But the planning committee severely criticised the proposal, saying they found it "completely unacceptable" and accused the developer of trying to "drive a coach and horses" through the SWDP.

They voted to be 'minded to refuse', giving officers time to draft up a list of refusals which would hold up at an appeal, before doing exactly the same one month later in June.

But the tense stand-off led to a Government time limit for giving a firm 'yes' or 'no' lapsing, with Miller Homes immediately triggering an independent planning inquiry on the grounds of "non-determination".

That inquiry was all set for this summer, with both sides getting their own lawyers in to prepare their arguments, until today.