Controversial plans for a care home to be built on playing fields in Ewell were rejected by a narrow majority of councillors last night.

Charity Nonsuch Abbeyfield was refused planning permission for sheltered housing, with 60 flats and round-the-clock care, in Old Schools Lane.

At Epsom Town Hall, six councillors voted to reject the application, four councillors voted in favour and two councillors abstained.

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Council officers had recommended refusal because the development would lead to a loss of open space and harm the conservation area.

But they did acknowledge the need for elderly accommodation and highlighted the charity's plan to improve the remaining pitches.

Maurice Pagella, a trustee at Nonsuch Abbeyfield, said they were disappointed by the decision, but said: "The project is certainly not dead."

Mr Pagella said: "There was a lot of debate and quite a lot of confusion and some of the councillors were somewhat concerned they had not got all they advice they should have done from officers."

Ewell councillor Michael Arthur, who spoke in opposition to the plans, said: "It was a long debate and very crowded with people. It was a very, very finely balanced thing."

Coun Arthur said the "rural quality" of that part of the conservation area and its green open spaces need to be preserved.

He said: "Building on there with a big, bland building - in my opinion - was not a fitting feature in Ewell Village."

Campaigners had formed Old Schools Lane Playing Fields User Group and collected more than 1,500 signatures in a bid to block the development.

Andrew Tibble, chairman of the group, said: "It’s a victory for planning policy and the environment.

"It won’t be a complete victory from our perspective until we can encourage the owner to promote its continued use as a sports field. That’s our next battle."

As part of the project Nonsuch Abbeyfield planned to acquire the 12-acre site from a Catholic educational charity, the Salesians.

In light of the planning application, Mr Tibble said the Salesians stopped the use of the playing fields at the end of last month.

Of the meeting, he said: "There was a lot of strong feeling on both sides. It was always going to be a fine line.

"I’m pleased the open space is being protected. The full satisfaction will be if it can still be used by the community as playing fields."

We want to house those who need care and to offer them something better than the isolation and loneliness that they often face living alone. 

Last night at the meeting Mr Pagella told councillors: "We want to house those who need care and to offer them something better than the isolation and loneliness that they often face living alone. 

"They are not vocal – but they are growing in number – and we think they need your support.

"Is Epsom and Ewell a caring community which looks after its members when they are vulnerable?  Or is it a town which allows its older people needing care to remain shut away in isolation, out of sight?

"We believe they deserve to be at the heart of our community. Better ways of supporting them should be embraced, not rejected."

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