Cheshire West & Chester Council is consulting on plans to release several areas of green belt land around Chester for housing development as it seeks to make up for a shortfall in supply.
Councils are required to identify sites for five years' housing supply under the government's new National Planning Policy Framework.
Dan Mitchell, partner of Manchester-based town planning consultancy Barton Willmore, said: "Both Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester Councils are coming under increasing pressure as house builders and developers seek to bring forward their proposals, at a time when neither council has a local plan in place which is compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework.
"Councils are now required to objectively assess their future housing requirements and plan for growth over the next 15 years. This should include a full, objective assessment of need for both market and affordable housing. In the case of these two Cheshire councils, their emerging strategies for growth could be around 40% below what their evidence base is suggesting is required to meet future housing needs. Implications of this could be an underestimation of the amount of land needed, including the extent of a Green Belt review. Cheshire West and Chester Council is currently envisaging up to 2,000 new homes to be provided in the Green Belt around Chester, the Council may well need to extend this review further if its evidence base is found to be deficient."
CWAC said 5,250 homes are needed in Chester by 2030 and proposes 2,000 in the green belt.
Ten areas around the city centre have been suggested:
- Saltney and Lache, A55
- Wrexham Road, Westminster Park, Duke's Drive, A55
- Handbridge bordered by Duke's Drive, The Meadows and River Dee
- South of Whitchurch Road in Boughton Heath
- Boughton Heath and Christleton alongside Whitchurch Road
- Piper's Ash
- North of Long Lane, Upton Heath
- Liverpool Road and Moston Road in Upton
- North of Blacon along the Shropshire Union Canal
- Blacon and Saughall bordered by Parkgate Road
Paul Williams, director of Mosaic Town Planning, added: "Evidence shows that the Green Belt is of very little amenity or environmental value to anybody except for those living in close proximity. These straightjackets around our major urban areas mean that the most productive land for housing and commercial development cannot be developed, and in some cases that development leapfrogs over it.
"Chester is an important sub-regional centre and the Council rightly recognises it as a key economic driver. However, it already has over 16,000 more jobs than economically active residents and house prices which are six times average incomes. The Green Belt has contributed to a major shortage of affordable family homes and caused unsustainable patterns of commuting.
"The council is proposing to reduce the overall housing requirement compared with the annual figure in Regional Spatial Strategy. On this basis and taking its breakdown at face value, there's still a need for some 2,000 dwellings in the Green Belt around Chester. Controversially, even this assumes that over 400 more dwellings will be built on playing fields and other green spaces within the urban area.
"Whilst the actual numbers are still up for debate, the council is to be applauded for taking a more rounded view of sustainability than the narrow defence of the outdated Green Belt. I'm sure our house builder clients will welcome its pragmatic approach and hope that this remains intact after the public consultation."