THE University of South Wales (USW) was left in no doubt yesterday as to the level of opposition and mistrust among Caerleon residents to its housing plans for its soon-to-close campus in the town.

More than 250 people crammed into Caerleon town hall for an at times raucous two-hour public meeting last night during which they vented their anger at the proposals.

A petition calling on Newport council to refuse further housing development in Caerleon has now attracted 1,200 signatories, and many at the meeting had questions about the impact of a development that could involve 200-400 homes on traffic, air quality and existing services such as GPs and schools.

USW deputy vice chancellor Huw Williams told the meeting the university wants to leave a "positive legacy for the community here in Caerleon."

"Fundamentally the future use will be a matter for whoever owns the site after the university, in discussion with the planning committee and the wider (Newport) council," he said.

"But if we can find a viable way to guide the site's future in a way that the community would get benefit from it, we want to do that."

It is likely to prove difficult to convince people of that intention however, amid a climate of anger and mistrust, with many people at the meeting questioning the university's decision to pull out of Caerleon and the motives behind it.

Mr Williams admitted that "trust has become a real issue, but we need to move forward."

"There has been some erroneous information circulating and we have to redress that, but frankly a lot of damage has been done in the last 18 months or so," he said, though he did not elaborate.

He also admitted, following a question from the audience, that in the event of the council refusing to approve the proposal currently being developed, "there is no plan B, at this point in time."

Questions were asked about safeguards that could be put in place concerning the quality of the development and the homes within it.

City council planning expert Tracey Brookes could do little to quell the pessimistic atmosphere, admitting that if USW were granted planning permission for a housing development on the campus site, there would be nothing to stop a developer coming along later and submitting a different scheme for consideration.

There were calls for the main building and other parts of the campus to be used for a sixth form college, to ease pressure on Caerleon comprehensive school, and suggestions too for the whole school to be moved there.

Council education chief James Harris said its policy is for sixth forms to be integral to existing secondary schools.

But he stressed too, following questions about demand for places at schools, that the prospect of a new school being requested by the council as part of any development could not be ruled out.

It would, he said, depend on overall demand and how many homes are eventually earmarked for the site.

Poor acoustics and dodgy sound equipment made for a frustrating start to the meeting, but by the end no-one from the council and USW could be in any doubt the strength of opposition to the development.

There is currently no indication of when a formal planning application will be submitted. The only sure thing at the moment is that when it comes, its opponents will be waiting.