RESIDENTS battling plans to build 78 homes near a town centre beauty spot have been dealt a hefty blow.

But they are vowing not give up hope and say they are exploring all their options to stop new houses being built off River View, in Witham.

It comes after Braintree Council planning chiefs recommended that a planning committee approves developer Bellway’s proposals at a meeting next week, subject to several conditions.

Rebekah McGrane, from the Heart of Witham Preservation Group, said: “The planning officer’s recommendation is hugely disappointing and it’s just as disappointing that the meeting won’t be held in Witham.

“There have been more than 500 objections to this but this 50-page report which the officer has prepared only includes some of the general points in on one page.

“We’re exploring our options in terms of what we can do if the application is approved but in the meantime we just want to see as many people as possible come down to the meeting next week.

“If we have a good turnout then seeing that and the level of opposition could be what persuades one of the members who aren’t too sure which way to vote, to go in our favour.”

The conditions relate to affordable housing, donating money for use on play areas, sports facilities and allotments in Witham and making cash contributions to improve Fern House Surgery, nursery and primary schools and widening part of River Walk.

Witham MP Priti Patel has joined the chorus of calls for the committee to ‘listen to residents and refuse the application’.

Ms Priti said: “The town is completely untied in its opposition to these plans, which would cause serious harm to our local community.

“The council must listen to local concerns and we will all be putting a robust case to the planning committee. This site is unsuitable for a development of this scale and should be refused.

“There are a large number of unanswered questions about these plans and it would be extremely disappointing if the committee approved this against local wishes.”

The planning committee will meet at Causeway House on March 19 from 7.15pm.