WINCHESTER'S civic chief is looking to cap the size of the city and surrounding villages by creating a new green belt.

Swathes of rural land could be made off-limits to developers through devolved powers for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Cllr Stephen Godfrey, Conservative leader of Winchester City Council, said devolution could prevent schemes like the 2,000-home Barton Farm estate being "imposed" on Winchester in future to meet nationally set housing targets.

Fifteen Hampshire councils, including Winchester, signed a 'devolution prospectus' sent to the Government on Friday.

Winchester district's nine 'green gaps' are less regulated than green belt land. They include those between Littleton and Harestock, Otterbourne and Shawford and Bishop's Waltham and Swanmore.

Asked whether these would form the new green belt, Cllr Godfrey said: “I'm not aware of anywhere we would want to give up, and I think we're looking at that, [as well as] examining a broader range of constraints of development so that our settlements don't grow too much more than they are now.

“For many years, at least 10 years, residents and their representatives have been trying to protect what is beautiful about Winchester. We are in large parts a rural district, and we want to make sure that we are keeping the protections for those rural parts."

Hampshire and Isle of Wight council leaders are looking to form a combined authority similar to Greater Manchester, taking powers and multi-million pound budgets from Government.

They have pledged to accelerate and expand housebuilding if Whitehall commits to helping with infrastructure and land release. A regional programme to build 76,000 homes by 2026 is currently behind schedule.

The prospectus said: "The designation of new green belt or similar measures to protect the settlement pattern, when undertaken alongside the planning and delivery of new homes, would provide reassurance and protection and build support for the additional development we are proposing as it will be seen to be concentrated in the most appropriate places."

Asked whether such controls could have prevented the Barton Farm scheme going ahead, Cllr Godfrey said: “Possibly. Barton Farm was - I don't want to say foisted upon us - was put on us by the demands of the south east plan, to meet the housing targets of the whole of the south east. If we'd had good local control, we may have felt that wasn't in our best interests."

Cllr Godfrey said Winchester's housing targets could be met by developing on brownfield and green exception sites, prioritising rural affordable housing, starter homes for young people and Extra Care units for the elderly.

Building upwards would be an "opportunity in some areas," he added.