TOWN hall chiefs have put together an “innovative” and “trailblazing” approach to housing targets which could save the “precious” green belt.

Central government’s standard methodology states that the BCP Council area needs to provide 2,700 new homes per year up to 2038.

The maximum delivered across the conurbation to date in a single year is reported to be 1,300 or 1,400.

However, Cllr Philip Broadhead, pictured right, told the Daily Echo an approach being explored by the council would see the target drop to around 1,600 homes.

“We have now got a new plan, which works with the government methodology, so we are following the rules, but we have dived into some of the assumptions behind the standard methodology, particularly as a university town area,” said the BCP Council deputy leader.

“There were some outdated projections around the level of internal migrancy – the level of people that come and stay. There was an assumption if people come in as a university student, they stay. Clearly they don’t.

“Fixing those assumptions brings our requirement to around 1,600 homes per annum but crucially it still follows government rules.”

The council was due to launch its local plan issues and options consultation before the end of the year, but Cllr Broadhead said it would now go live in January.

Following this consultation, a draft local plan would be formed and go back out for resident feedback before submission to the secretary of state and examination by an independent planning inspector. It is likely the local plan would not be adopted until 2023 at the earliest.

Discussing the possible new approach to housing targets, he said: “This is not about diluting our aspirations to build homes for young people but there is a difference between going above and beyond what you have done and going so far above and beyond that you have to open up a lot of green belt.

“I think the new plan, which will be part of the issues and options consultation, will give us so many more options for the placemaking part while accepting that the population is growing, young people need homes and we need to develop them.”

Cllr Broadhead said, if supported by residents, the council would become the first in the country to take this approach.

He said it would see the local authority become “a bit of a trailblazer for similar university towns with that very, very niche solution”.

“Most areas are faced with sticking with the rules or going it alone,” said Cllr Broadhead. “If you disagree with the standard methodology and go by local needs analysis alone, you can try it but when you get to inspection stage you have to make a really, really strong case. It is very, very risky and you don’t want to fall at the last hurdle.

“I think following the government’s rules but looking at the details behind the method and changing with up to date information is clever and innovative but I think it is still playing by the rules.

“We are the first to go down that route, if we go down it and the public support it. It is not without risks and we have to make the case at the inspection stage but I think the green belt is really precious, particularly to local people.

“The consequence of not doing this would be widescale green belt release, which I just don’t think is what the public want to see and it doesn’t give the answer to the housing needs that we have.”

As reported, Cllr Broadhead said the council will be putting “everything on the table” for residents to consider in the issues and options consultation.

He said before coming up with a draft local plan, it was important to hear what people thought of all the options. Meanwhile, further consideration could come into play should central government shift the goalposts of housing targets.

Housing secretary Michael Gove could reportedly tear up the current method used to work out a figure for the number of new homes local authority areas must deliver.

Cllr Broadhead said the council would “really welcome a more needs-based, bespoke approach which the Secretary of State seems to be hinting at”.