Land near a mooted strategic housing site for the Horsham district could become a nature reserve under new plans.
Land west of Ifield, adjacent to Ifield Brook Meadows, has been put forward by developer Welbeck Strategic Land as a possible site for between 2,500 and 3,500 homes.
It presented the scheme to Horsham District Council in June 2012 as the council decides its draft Local Development Framework, which will set out how many and where houses will be built over the next 20 years.
However, an application to turn the local beauty spot into a nature reserve, giving it greater protection from development, is being led by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and supported by Crawley Borough Council.
Landowner the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has said the land could have a strategic use for development.
An HCA spokeswoman said: “Whilst we appreciate the Wildlife Trust’s ambition to designate part of this site as a Local Nature Reserve, it would be unwise for us to make a decision on part of a site, the whole of which could have a more strategic role for housing in the future.
“We will, therefore, wait until Horsham District Council has completed its Core Strategy Review and we understand more about both local authorities’ needs and wishes for HCA land and the future use of the whole area. Only then could we start to look at what might be needed and where would be the best location for it.”
The meadow is an area of land on the western edge of Crawley, bounded by the Ifield Brook, with a small strip of woodland within Horsham district. A consortium of developers led by Welbeck Strategic Land has been lobbying HDC to designate land west of Ifield for a 2,500-3,500 home development - though it says the meadows are not part of these plans.
Crawley Borough Council has been consistently against the plan which it says would put strain on local infrastructure. The borough council is due to consult on separate proposals to secure additional protection for the meadows.
Ifield campaigner Richard Symonds said: “I am delighted to hear Crawley Borough Council are supporting a bid to designate Ifield Brook Meadows a Local Nature Reserve.
“Many within this ancient parish will also be hoping CBC achieves an alternative designation for this beauty spot in response to public concern.”
HDC is due to publish a report on its Horsham District Planning Framework Preferred Strategy on Thursday July 25.