A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build a caviar farm in a Sussex village was dramatically rejected last night.

Lewes District Council planning committee members voted seven to none, with one abstention, to reject the six-acre fish farm in East Chiltington.

The vote went against the advice of the local authority's planning officers who recommendation the application was granted.

The decision was met with loud applause by the 30 villagers who attended the meeting.

However, the Government will have the final say on the application after it was refereed before the meeting by Lewes MP Maria Caulfield.

Leading campaigner Janet Downes said: “I feel elated. We thought our chances were about 50-50 and I certainly didn’t expect such an overwhelming result.

“We know the developer will appeal, but we’ll be ready for him.”

Under planning law, local opposition cannot be considered in coming to a decision on an application.

In proposing the motion to refuse the application, councillor Vic Ient cited concerns over the viability of the experimental business model, the impact on the character of the area and the plan’s failure to enhance the community.

Several councillors also expressed concern over the inclusion of a three-bedroom house on site.

Industry expert David Campion said the caviar to be farmed at the site would have a value of £3 million over three years and an on-site employee was a crucial security measure.

However the final outcome of the contentious case has yet to be issued.

The committee had been instructed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that while it was free to debate and vote on the matter, it could not give a final decision until the department had decided whether it wished to 'call in' the application to be decided on by experts in Whitehall.

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield initiated the 'calling in' procedure after hearing the concerns of her constituents.

With the proposal recommended approval she wanted Government experts to have the final say.

Caviar farmer Kenneth Benning had no comment for The Argus last night but has previously insisted he would appeal if his plan was rejected.

The Argus reported yesterday that he had called Ms Caulfiedl a "lying b****" adding "if she wants to take me on, bring it on."

In September The Argus broke the news of the plans, which would have turned turn a modest plot of land at one end of the tiny village into a caviar farm with a wind turbine, a miniature reservoir, and five water beds, at least two of which would be used to rear the five-foot sturgeon whose eggs would be farmed for the delicacy.

But residents of the hamlet opposed the plans fiercely on the grounds that it would scar the landscape, disrupt their peaceful community and drain water from sea trout spawning grounds.