WINCHESTER’S biggest housing scheme in decades could expand even further as civic chiefs look to fill a looming gap in affordable homes.

City planners are considering adding extra houses to the 2,000-home Barton Farm project after almost £1 million of council cash was put at risk by new government rules.

Fringe countryside and urban plots previously deemed unnecessary may also be developed to tackle a possible shortfall in Winchester City Council’s affordable housing budget.

Developers currently pay into a cheap homes fund if they cannot build them on-site, but new government guidelines allowing firms to avoid the payments on small-scale projects will cost the council up to £920,000, cabinet heard on Wednesday.

It could mean fewer affordable homes are built over the next 20 years, councillors heard as they agreed to revisit the potential of unused sites.

John Beveridge, of the City of Winchester Trust, urged the council to build more affordable housing on Barton Farm to prevent "encroaching on the countryside", but rural land previously turned down by civic chiefs may now be used.

Work began on site last month but designs could still be tweaked to include more homes.

Labour group leader Cllr Chris Pines warned city bosses in September that building on greenfield sites was the “only real option” to provide enough affordable housing over the next 20 years.

Cllr Ian Tait, Winchester City Council’s portfolio holder for housing, told the Chronicle that the government’s changes were “unhelpful” but would force councillors to take a “fresh and imaginative approach to looking at our sites”.

He could not provide an estimate of how many extra houses were needed.