CONTROVERSIAL plans to build 48 houses on green fields have been refused by councillors, but planners say there would be a strong case for an appeal.

The proposed development at Pickup's Fields, which received 456 objections, was thrown out by the planning committee yesterday.

Councillors voted to refuse the plans on the grounds that the land was, until recently, used for recreation.

But head of development management Paul Whittingham said this reason would not carry any weight at an appeal because the land is already earmarked for housing.

Chief executive Jon Lord confirmed the housing association is considering an appeal, meaning the homes could still be built.

He said: “It’s a site that has been allocated for housing in the local plan, was recommended for approval by planning officers and we had worked over a long period of time in partnership with the council in preparation to build.

“Our data shows there are hundreds of people in Horwich looking for affordable homes so that they can remain in the area, raise a family here and live close to family and friends.”

Horwich town councillor Steven Chadwick is now calling on the council to "preempt" the appeal by suggesting alternative sites to the housing provider.

Fellow Horwich and Blackrod First town councillor David Grant, who spoke at the meeting, said he was relieved about the decision but said he is "under no illusions" about a potential appeal.

He said: "This is the first of a series of battles we need to win, the war to defend our remaining green space will no doubt continue against development and would urge all residents to continue to pull together when they know something is bad for Horwich and Blackrod."

Ward councillor Richard Silvester, who also spoke against the application, was "delighted" by the decision.

The Labour councillor objected to the land being earmarked for housing in the local plan back in 2012.

He said: "This land is an important community asset and should be there for recreational and leisure use. Let's hope that the new Tory Council now listen and reverse their decision to sell this land for housing. Round one has been won; next it will be round two to stop the sale of the land and save it for community use."

The sale of the council-owned land to Bolton At Home was blocked by Lib Dem leader Roger Hayes at a confidential meeting earlier this month.

It is due to be discussed by a scrutiny committee next week after which councillors will decide whether to allow the sale to go ahead.