MORE than 10,000 new homes are to be built in the New Forest over the course of the next 18 years, councillors have announced.

The district council's local plan, published on Friday, will set planning strategy in areas outside of the national park until 2036.

Members of the public are now invited to make comments on the plan ahead of its final examination.

Under the scheme, some 10,500 new properties will be built, with major residential development areas proposed around Ringwood and north and west of Fordingbridge, as well as Lymington, Milford on Sea, Hordle, New Milton and Bransgore.

Land near Totton, Marchwood and at the former Fawley power station site will also be developed.

To achieve the target, housebuilding rates in the forest will more than double from an average of 200 a year to around 500.

Of the new properties, 50 per cent will be affordable, council officials say.

Sustainable developments that avoid impacting European nature conservation sites, including the forest itself and the coast, will be 'prioritised', it is said.

Councillor Edward Heron, the district council's portfolio holder for planning and infrastructure, said officials are hoping to minimise the release of land from the green belt.

However, he acknowledged it has "not been possible to avoid changes to the green belt boundary completely".

"This plan has enormous local importance," he said.

"I am confident we have developed a plan that strikes the right balance between providing for future housing need and respecting the special place and high quality environment we are fortunate enough to reside in."

Formal representations on the plan are invited. All comments will be considered during a public examination held by an independent inspector later this year.

The consultation will end at midnight on August 12.

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