CIVIC chiefs have approved a 20-year plan for the future development of Winchester.

The city council has set a target of 12,500 new homes for the district by 2031, in line with changes a planning inspector made to the framework after a public inquiry last year.

It means the council retains control over decisions on where developers can build, and also states that 40 per cent of all new housing developments must be affordable homes.

The council originally wanted 11,000 homes over 20 years but the inspector increased the amount, as well as identifying Bushfield Camp as a site ‘allocated for employment’, increasing its chances of development.

All attending Liberal Democrats abstained from the vote last Wednesday evening with several claiming the council was being forced to accept it.

Lib Dem leader Kelsie Learney said: “There are things to welcome in this and I think we should thank officers for their hard work. But we do have to recognise that we are having a gun held to our head.

“Promises were made by David Cameron and our MP before the last election that with a Conservative government Winchester would be able to set its own figures for housing.

“I thought on these promises we had set our target at a locally derived figure of 11,000. We have to protect our communities from unrestricted development but I cannot welcome this. I think this will be damaging for Winchester.”

But Conservative councillors unanimously backed the plan as a sound vision for the future.

Cllr Eileen Berry said: “Of course there are things in this we will not like. Everyone has a reason to not want development but we are where we are and most of this is really, really beneficial.”

Cllr Robert Humby, deputy leader, said not approving the plan could delay the process by more than two years and would mean developers have an advantage in planning battles.

He said: “It’s quite right for local members to stand up and defend their patches but the consequences of not having the plan are severe and we would end up planning by appeal, it’s as simple as that.

Council leader Keith Wood added: “The danger of not passing this is quite serious. It would not only be irresponsible, it would have detrimental effect on the district over the next two years.”

As previously reported in the Chronicle, the plan has also been criticised over the Bushfield Camp change, with the City of Winchester Trust arguing development would damage the city landscape.

Detailed plans for the number of houses at each site are still to be approved by another inquiry to follow later this year.