EMBATTLED York council leaders are facing mounting calls for a full public inquiry into their controversial plans to sell off a green city site to be redeveloped as a model village.

Tory MP John Greenway is leading the campaign for an independent public review of City of York Council's joint venture with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The York-based charity plans to create a 540-home village, named Derwenthorpe, on land near Osbaldwick to the south-east of York.

But it is encountering vocal opposition, with many residents unhappy about the close relationship between the two bodies, and the potential repercussions of the scheme on their homes.

Mr Greenway said it was "entirely within the gift" of the council to have an inquiry.

He said: "There has to be a public inquiry. In my judgement, such an inquiry would enable all of the issues to be debated. Above all else, it would give the residents of the area some confidence that there would be an independent assessment of the problems."

At a meeting of more than 150 residents at Osbaldwick Primary School on Saturday, a unanimous call was made for a public inquiry. Locals fear increased traffic, pollution and the risk of flooding.

John Reeves, who said he represents households in Fifth Avenue, which may become an access road to the village, said: "We have a council that is effectively giving itself planning permission for financial gain."

But Coun David Wilde, who sits on the city's planning committee, said the council would refer the matter to the Minister of State, as it had with Coppergate, and is also doing with plans for the Barbican.

He said: "We cannot give ourselves planning permission. Furthermore, the planning committee does not automatically give consent to every decision that comes before them."

Lord Best, director of the JRF, argued that the charitable trust would be more accountable and offer a better long-term deal to surrounding residents than a private developer.

He said: "It's not up to us whether this land gets developed, it's up to the council. But if that is the case then it is much better for us to develop it than a private property developer."

He added that the JRF will remove overhead pylons, reduce earth moving and related traffic, and work to create a pleasant modern and affordable community for all ages.

A report of the opening of the meeting appeared in later editions of Saturday's Evening Press.

Updated: 10:48 Monday, May 03, 2004