TWO Lib Dem councillors have quit their party over plans to build thousands of homes near ancient woodland.

Cllr Steve Sollitt and Cllr Sarah Bain have resigned from the ruling Liberal Democrats group on Eastleigh Borough Council following their concerns about the deliverability and viability of the scheme.

They are now sitting as independents, but council leader Keith House has hit back and said the rebels had taken a decision on the Local Plan before all the evidence was made available.

As previously reported by the Chronicle, during a full council meeting on July 20, borough councillors indicated the area to the north and east of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak as the preferred location for a new development which could see 5,200 new homes, shops, schools, open spaces and a new access road north of Allbrook, Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.

A final decision will not be made until at least this winter and is subject to the results of surveys aimed at showing the impact that the development could have on traffic and environment.

But the plans, known as options B and C in the borough’s Local Plan, sparked a fierce debate between residents and naturalists because of the proximity of the proposed development to ancient woodland such as Upper Barn and Crowdhill Copse woods.

Cllr Sollitt, who has been a councillor in Eastleigh for the past 19 years, said: “I understand the need for a robust, viable, deliverable and defendable Local Plan.

“Both Sarah and I believe there are serious issues with the proposed strategic growth Option B and C that seriously put into question the soundness of the emerging Local Plan.

“We would urge the administration to look again at these options to ensure the plan put forward for public consultation is one that can be robustly defended to an inspector in a public inquiry.”

Both councillors are said to be concerned about the proposed link road, its impact on the River Itchen Special Area of Conservation and the feasibility of running a link road under the railway bridge in Allbrook.

When asked about the impact that their decision to resign could have on their role as councillors, Cllr Sollitt and Cllr Bain said they still support what the party is doing in Eastleigh but do not support the options proposed for the new housing development.

Cllr House, council leader and leader of the local Liberal Democrats party, said: “Several councillors have decided to reach a decision on the Local Plan before all of the evidence is available to take an informed decision. That is their right and their decision but in the process they are ruling out tackling chronic traffic congestion to improve the quality of life of Eastleigh residents.”