AN important wildlife haven on Romsey’s doorstep is to receive official nature reserve status.

Test Valley Borough Council is being given Fishlake Meadows in return for granting permission for 64 houses on nearby paddocks at Oxlease Farm in Cupernham.

Landowner Tom Hanslip’s scheme was approved by the council’s planning area committee on Tuesday.

Councillors believe the deal will result in better management of the 140-acre wetland and that it could reduce the risk of flooding in Romsey if planned improvements to drainage and sluices are implemented.

Many species of birds have been spotted at the meadows, a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation (Sinc), including heron, bittern, osprey, kingfisher, little egret, grebes, nightingale, hen and marsh harrier, peregrine, reed and corn bunting and even the hawfinch which is now seldom seen in many areas of Hampshire. Otters and water vole are also known to live on the site.

The whole nature reserve will be open to the public and a car park will be built off Fishlake Meadows Road.

New paths will be created at the reserve and a bird hide will be built. Dog walkers will be banned from parts of the reserve to protect nesting birds.

Mr Hanslip will make a financial contribution to the improvements, using money from the sale of the new houses.

Planning officer Liz Harrison said the proposed facilities would “benefit the wider public”.

During the debate on the scheme, Councillor Mark Cooper said: “This is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity so let’s take it.”

Councillor Martin Hatley described the site as a “secret jewel in Test Valley’s crown”.

“The borough council can enhance this site for the good folk of Romsey. There is a lack of management there at the moment and it requires money to be spent on improving it,” he added.

Councillor Clive Collier said rare birds like the ospreys would bring in more tourists.

However, Ian Hibberd, was not keen and said: “This piece of land floods regularly and the paddock is entirely unsuitable to build on. The whole scheme has been cobbled together.”

Councillor Ian Richards was in the same opinion. “If you put a bit of concrete on the land it will make flooding matters worse,” he warned Mr Richards.

Councillor Alison Johnston was also against the plans. “Sixty-four houses for the price of a sluice is too high,” she said.

There were some concerns raised about the low number of affordable homes proposed - just five out of 64.

Romsey Town and Romsey Extra Parish Councils and about 20 residents were opposed to the scheme claiming that it was development in the countryside and against TVBC policy.

John Parker, a member of Romsey Extra Parish Council, said: “The argument about it being an enabling development is not accepted. This ‘offer’ to gift the wetlands could be viewed as simply off-loading a future liability.”

He also queried the proposed nature reserve’s role in flood protection for Romsey.