HUNDREDS of people have signed a petition to stop building on a popular nature reserve.

Hyde Housing Group and Brighton and Hove City Council plans 217 affordable homes on Whitehawk Hill near Brighton Racecourse, an area which, in 2012, the council said it was “looking at ways to conserve and improve as a resource for local people”.

People living in flats neighbouring the nature reserve are furious that only six years ago, the council said Whitehawk Hill was a “vital green lung, home to old chalk grassland which supported many rare plant and animal species” but has now decided to “cover it in concrete”.

The council carried out a public consultation in 2012 asking residents questions on its plans to conserve Whitehawk Hill nature reserve which at the time it said was a “highly regarded” area.

Many of the people in the flats next door have been living there for more than 20 years and were included in the 2012 consultation.

Anne Glow, of Kingfisher Court in Albourne Close said: “One of the questions asked in the consultation was ‘are you happy with our proposals to conserve ancient chalk grassland on Whitehawk Hill?’ to which 90 per cent of the residents said yes. How easy they forget.”

Ms Glow said she was devastated the wildlife was being put at risk in an area which the council detailed in its 2012 report as “a popular area for dog walking and nature spotting”.

She said: “We are not against social housing, we welcome it, but not on the reserve near Brighton Racecourse. There are other spaces that can be used.

“Whitehawk is overcrowded with nowhere for cars to park.

“Most evenings when I take the dog for her last comfort walk we both look for the foxes and badgers. I love to see them, it makes my day.”

Author and environmentalist Dave Bangs said the land is home to rare reptiles including slow worms and common lizards who will have to be rehomed if the building goes ahead.

Richard Bickers, a freelance ecologist said: “The nature reports the council carried out on the area are not thorough enough. They have completely ignored vital elements of this nature reserve.”

Ms Glow and other residents from Whitehawk have started a petition to stop Hyde Housing building on the reserve and have already gathered more than 300 signatures.

Councillor Anne Meadows, chairwoman of the housing and new homes committee, said: “With the supply of housing not keeping pace with demand in the city, building new low cost homes for local people is a key priority for us. There are around 15,000 households on the joint housing register and 1,700 households in temporary accommodation and rising homelessness.

“Our aim is to create 1,000 new homes for rent and sale specifically for lower income, local working households in Brighton and Hove.”