A HOUSING developer’s surprise decision to withdraw plans for a 3,000-home garden village in West Oxfordshire has been met with cautious optimism.

Gladman withdrew its application to build the ‘Barnard Gate Garden Village’ north of South Leigh, near Witney, with immediate effect on Friday.

The developer did not provide a reason for the decision and has so far not responded to a request for comment.

The garden village plan included a science or business park, two new primary schools, a medical centre and pharmacy, play areas and improvements to the A40, including widening the road.

South Leigh residents hit out at the plans when they were submitted earlier this year, arguing the garden village would ‘decimate’ the surrounding area and bring about the ‘death of Witney’.

Friday's decision took villagers by surprise, and South Leigh Parish Council clerk, John Ashwell, said: “Obviously the residents of South Leigh are delighted the application has been withdrawn.”

The development was pitched as an alternative to the 2,200-home Eynsham garden village, set to be built north of the A40.

However, while the Eynsham site is included in West Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan, the Barnard Gate development is not backed by the document.

Gladman’s application was submitted before councillors formally adopted the Local Plan in September, which sets out how the district can achieve economic growth and meet its housing target of 15,950 new homes between 2011 and 2031.

The plan protects against speculative and inappropriate development by identifying the most suitable sites for housing across the district.

Tomorrow marks the end of the six-week period after the plan’s adoption during which anyone can challenge the document, although it is unconfirmed whether the Barnard Gate application was withdrawn in relation to this.

After the plans were submitted, residents formed the action group South Leigh Against Gladman (SLAG), while dozens of people objected to the plans online.

In the latest objection, Cassington resident Lisa Tyler said: “This is a step too far. One garden village is too much.

“They have proposed primary schools but what about secondary education?

“Local schools are already over-subscribed. The A40 will not cope with this amount of extra traffic.”

But several people also offered their support to the garden village, including Merilyn Davies, district councillor for Hanborough and Freeland, who preferred the Barnard Gate site to the Eynsham development.

She said: “I would have welcomed the opportunity to examine it in greater detail.

“I’m a bit disappointed it has been withdrawn as I think it would have been a better site than the Eynsham one.

“I’m very suspicious over why they’ve withdrawn it. I don’t think it’s the end of this development.”