CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after meadowland near Swindon has been saved from development.

Wilcon Homes Western wanted to build 54 homes on former church land in Pentylands Lane, Highworth.

But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's office has ruled the company cannot build there.

Campaigners fighting to preserve the fields, which are home to ancient hedgerow and wildlife, have welcom-ed the decision.

Norman Edwards, chairman of the Pentylands Preservation Group, said: "We are absolutely delighted. It is quite clear that the fields are not suitable for development.

"I hope that fields will be kept for the hundreds of people of Highworth who use the land and enhance the use of the community forest.

"I would just like to thank all the people who have supported us."

Swindon Council twice refused to grant planning permission and Wilcon Homes mounted an appeal against the decision which led to a planning inquiry in January.

Based on the inspector's report the secretary of state rejected the developer's appeal that it should be allowed to build on the greenfield site because it had been allocated for housing in the adopted local plan.

The proposal contradicts planning guidelines set out by central government, which state that greenfield sites should only be used if no brownfield sites or areas that have been previously developed were not available.

Charmian Spickernell, spokes-woman for the Wiltshire branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said: "This is a significant victory and upholds what we have been saying for a long time now and that is that there are enough brownfield sites without having to build on greenfield ones.

"It reflects what has been happen-ing all over the country and the decision is going to have quite an effect on planning in Swindon."

Coun Lisa Hawkes (Con, Highworth) said: "This is absolutely fantastic news. The fields have already been removed from the new local plan and this is an unequivocal refusal from the Secretary of State.

"What Wilcon does with the land is anybody's guess. They certainly can't build on it now. It is a triumph for local political decision making."

Juliet Tilley, a spokeswoman from Wilcon, said: "We have only just received notification that we did not win the appeal and we have not received the ruling document yet so we do not want to make a comment until we have read it."

St Michael's Reformed Church and Highworth United Reformed Church sold the two fields for a total of £3.8m in March 2001.