CAMPAIGNING residents applauded councillors who flew in the face of their officers' recommendations and refused to approve plans for a controversial Thurrock industrial site.

More than 700 letters of protest and a 450 signature petition were received by the borough council in opposition to plans to change the use of outbuildings at Bentons Farm, Mollands Lane, South Ockendon.

Once in agricultural use, the land and buildings were owned by Basildon and Thurrock Health authority and used as a resource centre and day activity unit until sold to current owners T and S Multi Services Ltd. They have used the site as part of a waste disposal business.

The new owners have already fallen foul of Thurrock planners, who have issued four enforcement notices on developments on the site, and local residents who have united to form the Ockendon Concerned Residents' Action Group to fight further changes.

And residents turned out in force tonight to make their views known as the Council's planning committee considered plans for the change of use of offices.

Their spokesperson and chairman Derek Duke, who lives on Molland Lane opposite the farm, addressed the meeting outlining residents' fears which included the possible storage of asbestos on the site, traffic issues and despoiling green belt.

He told the councillors: "You need to make a decision in the public interest. This is a full residential area with family housing. The correct approach would be to put people first and stop this development now."

South Ockendon councillor Barry Lawrence said: "This was a country lane. Along came the developers of this site which was a nice peaceful area and turned it into anything but. You name it, it has gone on there.

"Why did this company move from an industrial site to a residential area? There are many issues, residents' concern over cylinders and their contents taken to and from the site among them.

"This is not what you expect from a residential area."

Another South Ockendon councillor, Amanda Arnold, warned members of the planning committee that development had already take place. "This is a retrospective planning application," she said. "Work has been done on the site.

"We don't want light industrial use in residential developments. This does not fit in."

She also highlighted many residents' biggest concern, saying: "We can't guarantee that there won't be traces of asbestos in the vans on this site."

The Council's principal planner in Development Control, Paul Clark, told councillors that the application had to be judged on its individual merits, saying: "It is important that residents' objections don't cloud decisions on the individual merits" and adding that the councillors couldn't make a decision on the assumption that the owner might break conditions yet to be imposed.

However, though the officers' recommendation was for approval, councillors voted to defer a decision subject to a site visit.

Planning chairman Steven Veryard said: "I'm not satisfied we have enough information on the agenda to make a decision."

He promised a packed public gallery that they would have another say on the issue when it was brought back before the committee.