Villagers have been told to accept a large scale housing project or endure a cucumber distribution centre.

Last week people in Nazeing received letters from Dawn Harper at Haycross Ltd explaining that the company was seeking the go-ahead to build either 26 or 36 homes on Stoneshot Farm off Hoe Lane.

While the land owners already have permission to build eight "very large detached houses" and ten affordable homes, it wants to build more.

If planning permission is not granted for one of the newly proposed two schemes, Ms Harper claimed, industrial units will be built instead.

The letter reads: "If consent for the 26 homes is not accepted it will leave us with no other option than to expand and redevelop the site as industrial/warehouse units on a scale not seen before.

"We are already in discussion with a local salad distribution company who are very interested in industrial expansion."

While Ms Harper refers to a plan for 26 homes, her company is also appealing refused proposals to build 36 homes on the land.

Failing that and because it already has industrial planning consent, if Haycross Ltd chooses to do so it could immediately begin building a 450,000 sq/ft salad plant, which would lead to 200 extra HGV trips along Hoe Lane every week.

The letter struck a nerve with villagers, who feel they are being strong-armed into accepting the lesser of two evils.

Sophie Sorrell said: "It is a bit naughty. I totally object to it.

"The road is full of lorries already and it is very dangerous down here.

"You can't cycle or walk your kids to school.

"My husband has been in two car crashes on the road already because of lorries."

Another Nazeing resident, Di Clark, said the letter was "totally underhand" and suggested the farm was too far from the village to be suitable for housing.

Graham Wright, who has been paid by Haycross Ltd's France-based owners to represent the plans and whose house backs on to the farm, offered a frank alternative vision.

He said: "Haycross Ltd are a company and they want to make money either through industrial or residential.

"It is not blackmail. It is the truth. It is a statement of fact."

Mr Wright also criticised the district council for ruling that ten of the homes on the approved application must be affordable.

He added: "If you bought a £2.5m house you wouldn't want a small affordable house next to it."

When asked whether the land could be left as it is, Mr Wright said: "Why not just return it to the Forest Commission?

"It sounds wonderful, this utopian vision. Why do you think people buy plots of land? It is to provide houses and make money."