FURTHER green belt development is being considered by BCP Council in a bid to build thousands of new homes.

Even with a forecast of increased housing density and building heights in urban areas, the council predicts it will have a shortfall of 5,500 homes against the government-set target.

As a result, it has agreed that every green belt site put forward by developers be included in its Local Plan consultation this summer.

Councillor Mike Brooke, who heads up the working group overseeing the planning blueprint, said “at this stage, this is the only way forward”.

The council is required to produce a Local Plan, which sets out its priorities for development of the area, including how it will meet government housing targets.

Earlier this year this target was increased to 2,700 homes per year, despite councillors saying this was “unhelpful”.

They have criticised the use of “out-of-date” Office for National Statistics data from 2014 rather than more recent 2018 information and has said this “should be challenged”.

But councillors were told at Monday’s scrutiny board meeting that the council was not yet able to do this.

Nor, they heard, was this the case for the use of “duty to co-operate” arrangements which could see new homes in neighbouring council areas count towards the target.

“It is essential that we do look at green belt development and exhaust the opportunities there before asking Dorset Council, for example, to take on any shortfall we might have,” Cllr Brooke said.

“So, the green belt option is, at this stage, the only way forward and it is essential that we look at the sites that have been put forward.”

Consultation on the Local Plan is expected to start in either July or August.

Dozens of green belt sites were put forward by developers in the 2019 call for sites, including areas of Throop and Holdenhurst and land off Kinson Manor Farm, Burley Road and Knighton Lane in Wimborne.

These on their own total more than 4,000 homes.

Councillors were told on Monday that after the use of urban sites, the council would have a 9,000-home shortfall which would reduce to 5,500 through encouraging higher density housing.

This is expected to shrink further through new planning rules, that make adding storeys to existing blocks easier, and the conversion of office space to residential. Precise numbers are unknown.

This has lead to the need to consider green belt land.

But some councillors have warned against their use,  including councillor Lesley Dedman who said it was “a risky undertaking” and that there was a need to protect these “precious”  areas.

However, councillors did agree that they be included in the consultation.

“We will hear a great deal from many residents about the protection of the green belt but, looking back, many parts of our conurbation wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t intruded into what was then the green belt,” councillor Ann Stribley said. “Going out to public consultation will give us more time to appreciate what is coming in [from other parts of the conurbation.”

Scrutiny board chairman, council Stephen Bartlett, said this was not the council “committing” to green belt development, rather that it was a process required before the housing targets can be challenged.

And cabinet member for regeneration, councillor Phil Broadhead, added that not doing so risked the council being “forced into giving away green belt that we really don’t want to”.

Although most councillors agreed against the principle of developing the green belt, councillor Mark Howell, who represents Poole town centre, said there should not be a “phobia" of building on it.

“Sometimes there’s a lot of noise from people who live near the green belt or who represent the green belt but most people live in the town centres or the urban areas,” he said. “Many of them welcome development.

“In Poole Town we desperately need regeneration areas to be built out but it’s got to be done in a measured way that makes those places high quality.”

He said avoiding green belt development would lead to a “mish-mash” in the three towns leading to fewer houses being built at the expense of flats which he said would “damage the heart of the area”.

Permission to start the consultation is expected to be requested of the council's cabinet in July with the consultation beginning soon after.