OPPOSITION is growing over controversial plans to build more than 5,000 homes in Chester with 1,300 on greenbelt land.
Conservative-run Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has published the draft local plan and believes 5,200 homes will be needed over the next 17 years.
But campaigners claim the numbers are “wildly inflated” and argue the true figures are much lower, meaning there is no need to sacrifice the greenbelt.
Under the plans, greenbelt land opposite Chester Business Park on Wrexham Road would be released for 1,300 homes.
Planning officers believe the rest of the greenbelt around Chester should be left untouched but the idea of allowing any housing on greenbelt land has upset many.
Labour councillors argue a 15 per cent reduction in the annual housing targets would provide ample new homes without needing to build in the greenbelt.
Labour leader Justin Madders said: “We have made it clear we oppose development on the green belt. We have identified alternative proposals that see new housing in the borough built on brownfield sites in a sustainable manner.
“Yet once again the Tories find themselves in a mess over planning issues, where their desperation to build on the greenbelt creates more problems than solutions.”
An eight-week public consultation comes to an end on Friday and Labour now plan to survey residents in Handbridge, Overleigh, Lache, Saltney and Westminster Park to gauge feelings about the proposals.
Chris Matheson, who has been chosen as the prospective challenger to Chester MP Stephen Mosley, said he was “instinctively protective” of the greenbelt.
He said: “Speaking to residents it seems there is firm opposition locally to the Wrexham Road plans so we are surveying all residents to ensure their views are heard.”
Mr Matheson is concerned the housing plans would cause major traffic problems to the south of the city.
He said: “Certainly anyone driving down Wrexham Road, Lache Lane, Hough Green or Overleigh Road knows traffic is already saturated there, particularly at rush hour.
There is a danger of gridlock over the Grosvenor Bridge.”
Cllr Alex Tate, who represents Lache, has similar fears about the lack of infrastructure and said the was “real concern” among residents.
She said: “The effect on the already-heavy traffic, the problems with drainage and sewage, and even the danger of increased flooding, have all been raised with me by residents.
“We have also been looking at the effect on local schools and children of increased traffic. I want to make sure all views are heard as we respond to the local plan.”
The local plan will be the first development document published since CWaC came into being in 2009. The document will set out the overall vision for the council, strategic objectives and planning policies to guide development in the borough.
It covers crucial issues ranging from housing, employment, environment and the green belt to the economy, transport, heritage, landscape and health.
Across the borough, CWaC believes 22,000 new homes are needed between now and 2030 and wants to see 5,200 in Chester, 4,800 in Ellesmere Port, 4,300 in Northwich, 3,500 in Winsford and 4,200 in rural areas.
But there are concerns planning officers are ignoring realistic growth figures in favour of over ambitious targets and the plan will result in a flood of developments coming forward.
Andy Scargill, chairman of the Friends of North Chester Greenbelt campaign group, believes the council is “pandering” to rich developers.
He said: “If these wildly inflated housing figures are allowed to go through we expect that the plan will be rejected.
"It is vital for the sake of local people that this does not happen since any delay on its approval and implementation will extend the window in which unscrupulous and greedy developers can lay claim to building on our green fields and greenbelt.
“As with the student village application, which we successfully fought off, we say that this is yet another attempt to pander to the developers who have their eyes set on the rich rewards building on virgin green fields can afford them.”
Following the end of the consultation, the final proposals, with public comments, will be sent to an independent planning inspector and then to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government.