A campaign to save Alton from “crushing over-development” is picking up hundreds of new supporters every day, with a demand for East Hampshire district councillors to think again over plans to build up to 1,250 homes on the edge of the South Downs National Park.

Save Neatham Down – Stop the Overdevelopment of Alton was founded by Abigail and Gary Hills in early February when they were stunned to discover plans to surround their isolated farmhouse at Golden Chair, in open countryside on the southern side of the A31, with 240 acres of housing.

Abigail, 42, said: “This proposal for an entire new town, on a beautiful, ancient piece of virgin downland, came totally out of the blue.

“There was no attempt to inform the people of Alton, and no discussion – I only found out about it from a friend. They even submitted the proposal on December 22, when I suppose they thought no-one would be looking.”

She initially set up her campaign to try to save what she describes as an “iconic” landscape. The proposed site borders two protected ancient woodlands and the upper River Wey, a chalk stream protected under national legislation currently before parliament, and hosts resident populations of deer, hares, owls, hawks, kingfishers, stoats and wild brown trout.

Abigail felt the size of the new development would also threaten the national park’s status as an International Dark Skies Reserve, as well as risk losing local history forever.

She said: “The site sits next to a Roman road, and ruins of medieval ramparts in Monkwood. These beautiful footpaths were once walked by Jane Austen and Gilbert White. Are we really going to concrete over that?”

By basing the campaign on a general call for all opponents of East Hampshire District Council’s housing plan for Alton and the surrounding areas to unite, Save Neatham Down has struck a chord across East Hampshire.

Several hundred people have signed up to the campaign’s Facebook page. An online petition started by Abigail’s East Worldham neighbour Suzanne Winn has attracted 600 signatures in two weeks. A dedicated Save Neatham Down website received more than 1,000 visitors in six days – and prompted an outpouring of outraged complaints to East Hampshire District Council’s housing plan website.

“This is outrageous!” wrote one. “How many more beautiful sites around Alton are going to be ruined with buildings? Enough is enough!”

Other opponents have criticised a “rushed and poorly thought-out” planning process, questioning how such a large development can be included in East Hampshire District Council’s Local Plan before visual or environmental assessments have taken place and in apparent contravention of East Hampshire District Council’s 2019 declaration of a climate emergency.

Abigail has written to East Hampshire District Council formally requesting an extension to the public consultation period, which began on January 22 and currently runs until March 4. She has also invited every East Hampshire district councillor to join her on a walk around Neatham Down on February 25 at 1pm. “I just want them to look down at the town of Alton and see all our wonderful green spaces,” she said.

Campaigners against other proposed housing developments in and around Alton – at Holybourne, Northbrook Park and Chawton Park Farm – have now pledged their support to create a combined crusade against plans which they say will enlarge the town’s population by around a third, or 5,000 people.

Veterans of the successful No Wey Incinerator campaign against Veolia’s plan to site a giant waste processing facility on the A31 next to the Hen and Chicken pub – which amassed more than 5,000 objections from as far away as New Zealand – have also joined the campaign.

Shared concerns include the increased traffic created by the 2,000 extra cars such a development would bring, a decade of traffic jams on the A31 during the ten to 15-year construction, the extra burden that 3,000 more residents will place on Alton’s already heavily oversubscribed GPs, NHS dentists and secondary schools, and the precedent that building on the southern side of the A31 sets for future development. The choice of a greenfield site also appears to run contrary to recent government policy to protect undeveloped spaces.

“How much more can Alton take?” asked Neatham resident Tessa Laughton, 51.

“The whole town’s a building site! In the last couple of years, Alton’s already had three massive developments for thousands more people. We all understand the need for more housing. But should it really all be in one place?”

Following the surge of criticism, Alton Town Council now plans an extraordinary meeting on February 28 to discuss the housing plan. Both the campaign and the council are urging people across East Hampshire to make their voices heard on the East Hampshire District Council website before the consultation closes on March 4.

Said Alton town councillor Matthew Kellermann: “I am thoroughly opposed to further development of the nation’s green fields for more and more housing. I support Save Neatham Down!”

Several nearby parish councils also have similar plans. The campaigners are also soliciting support from local MPs Damian Hinds and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt.

“It seems that East Hampshire District Council has attempted to slip this proposal into the Local Plan at the last minute, giving very little time to respond,” said campaigner Suzanne Winn. “Time is short. Please take action and say a clear no to the overdevelopment of Alton!”

The East Hampshire District Council consultation on Neatham Down can be found at https://ehdclocalplan.commonplace.is/en-GB/contributions/proposal/alt8-land-at-neatham-manor-farm-alton

Save Neatham Down is at https://saveneathamdown.org/, their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/saveneathamdown and their petition is at https://www.change.org/p/save-neatham-down-say-no-to-the-continuing-overdevelopment-of-alton