A HAMPSHIRE landowner has mounted a legal challenge to a 20-year plan for the future development of Winchester.

Zurich Assurance Ltd, formerly Eagle Star Estates, has battled since 1990 to build a massive new town on countryside it owns at Micheldever Station.

Now the company is attempting to get Winchester District Local Plan quashed in the High Court on the grounds technical errors were made – a claim the city council denies.

The local plan, recently approved by a planning inspector, gives the council control over where developers can build 12,500 new homes by 2031.

It thwarts Zurich’s 12,000-home scheme at Micheldever Station because the land is not earmarked for major development – unlike Barton Farm, also north of Winchester.

Zurich says it want to “keep all options open.”

But the city council said it disagreed with the grounds for the legal challenge and will be “vigorously rebutting” them.

The legal challenge has been made within a six-week window before the plan is finally adopted. A High Court judge could quash the plan or suspend it until there is full trial to examine issues raised.

Plans for a new town at Micheldever Station have been fought by local people who say it will wreck previously unspoilt countryside.

Douglas Paterson, chairman of the Dever Society, criticised the company for wasting public money. The new town plan has been repeatedly rejected by planners.

Mr Paterson, a dairy farmer, said: “The city council has been through the whole planning process and there has been a public inquiry.

“I hope it will be a straight ‘no’ from the powers-that-be. This is another big corporation trying to exert a predatory interest in developing the countryside.”

Zurich Assurance has challenged Winchester District Local Plan on the grounds errors were made by the council in drawing up the plan and inspector in approving it.

These included planning for 594 too few homes, failing to co-operate with neighbouring district councils as required and mistakes in an environmental sustainability appraisal.

A company spokesman said: “Zurich Assurance Ltd recognises the potential for housing development at Micheldever Station, to the north of Winchester.

“Whilst we have no immediate plans to take forward any development proposal there, if we had not launched a challenge, we will have forfeited our optionality for the land until 2031.

“We fully understand the sensitive nature of this matter and are carefully considering out position. If successful, the challenge allows us to keep all options open.”