SOUTH Downs National Park Authority says a controversial new 'nitrate capture' scheme will enhance local biodiversity.

Villagers in the Upper Meon valley have criticised the scheme at Whitewool Farm near Warnford.

Tyhe farm wants to create a wetland habitat that will soak up nitrates, with credits sold to developers to mitigate the impact of their developments.

Conservation bodies are growing increasingly concerned about nitrates entering the Solent, wither from homes or agriculture.

Villagers have been considering seeking a judicial review to challenge the decision of the national park planning committee.

In a statement the park said: "An application for the proposed development at Whitewool Farm, East Meon, was considered at the authority’s Planning Committee on 9 July.

"Planning permission has not yet been granted. The outcome of the Planning Committee meeting was a resolution to grant planning permission, subject to the completion of a legal agreement to secure the use of the site as a wetland for the purpose of removing nitrates from the watercourse and its long term management, and the completion of further ecological survey work. Subject to these being satisfactory, planning permission would be issued and include planning conditions requiring a landscape and ecological management plan for the scheme. This would aim to secure its long-term future."

Among local people's criticisms was the limited public consultation with most locals unaware of the Whitewool Farm application.

The national park statement said: "The application was publicised and consulted upon in accordance with the authority’s procedures and national planning legislation. This consultation included West Meon Parish Council, which raised no objection, as well as statutory bodies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, and the county council, as lead flood authority – all of which were content with the proposals.

"The scheme underwent changes through the application process to address the views of consultees and SDNPA officers. This included achieving a better functioning wetland for removing nitrates and an appropriate flow of water through it to maintain it during summer months, which are typically drier and when water flows are lower.

"Subject to formal planning permission, the improved scheme will greatly enhance the biodiversity and habitats of the area and improve the water quality of the River Meon. Improving biodiversity, water quality, and conserving and enhancing eco-systems are key planning policies in the adopted South Downs Local Plan.

"We are in correspondence with a number of interested parties and are in the process of responding individually to any concerns."