Abnormally high levels of radiation from electricity pylons have forced a council to ditch plans for new homes.

A survey of land in Prince Charles Close, Southwick, carried out by Adur District Council, found worrying levels of electric and magnetic fields (EMFs).

The council dropped plans to build six houses in the street after a report by officers said the levels "unexpectedly gave cause for concern".

The survey revealed background radiation between 0.4 and 1.1 microtesla.

Maria Crosskey, who has lived in the close almost 30 years, said: "I am shocked but there's been talk about the pylons for years.

"The amount of people who have suffered illnesses around here is unbelievable. We can't prove it's because of the pylons but there have been an awful lot of problems health-wise for such a small estate."

Families from the 97 households on the estate were already opposed to plans to build on one of the area's last open spaces.

Members of the Prince Charles Residents Association were hoping to turn the land into a small park.

Mrs Crosskey added: "There was a young girl here who died of leukaemia and there is a young man who is in remission.

"My mother-in-law lived in Highdown Road and the pylons went right behind their house. She died of cancer and the girl opposite has it now.

"One day me and my friend sat and looked at every house and we could point to an illness or death at each of them."

The council was hoping to sell the land to Southern Housing Group for development.

Housing officers said the EMF survey "unexpectedly gave cause for concern" in a report to councillors to be discussed today.

Government guidelines recommend the public is not exposed to EMFs greater than 100 microteslas.

But studies into the effects of EMFs have defined fields above 0.4 microtesla as the "top exposure category" where a statistically significant link to childhood leukaemia is found.

The council's report says evidence about the harmful effects of power lines is the subject of much research, adding: "A policy of prudent avoidance' in this case is clearly sensible, as it is one thing acknowledging the existence of such a potential risk in all its uncertainties but another to build knowingly on land where the risk is known to potentially exist and is not quantified."

EDF Energy, which manages the pylons, said it would be making further studies in the area as a precautionary measure and questioning the council about its decision.

A spokeswoman said: "We abide fully by all guidelines on exposure to electric and magnetic fields issued by the Government.

"These guidelines recommend that the public are not regularly exposed to magnetic fields greater than 100 microtesla or electric fields greater than 5,000 volts per metre.

"Therefore a reading of 0.4 microteslas falls well within these guidelines and we are concerned at the fears this council report will raise."