COUNCIL bosses say building 7,000 new homes on greenbelt land “is just an option”, but that the borough must build 1,200 homes a year.

Southend Council said it will not be able to meet all housing demands by the government by building on urban land, and are also looking at other areas for development.

The council is required by the government to bring in 24,000 homes over the next 20 years, and identify land for businesses to accommodate between 10,000 and 12,000 jobs.

It has faced criticism for a plan to potentially bring 7,200 homes onto greenbelt land between Sutton Road and Star Lane on the Rochford-Southend border.

Trevor Saunders, director for planning, said a consultation was carried out in 2019 which saw the option of a new neighbourhood receive the most support.

He said: “As part of the 2019 issues and options consultation for the new local plan, it was highlighted that Southend will not be able to continue to meet all of its housing need within its existing urban area.

“Or, indeed, on land at the edge of the existing built up area within Southend and the council needs to look at other ways of achieving this.”

The news comes after the Government curbed the planning powers of 52 councils in the UK - including Southend - that did not deliver 75 per cent of their three-year house building targets.

Between 2017 and 2020, 3,102 new homes should have been built in Southend – but only 1,107 were delivered.

The council must have a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” where it gives more weight to national housing needs.

Carole Mulroney, councillor responsible for planning, said: “There is no planning application, it’s just listed as an opportunity, nothing more.

“The government has those powers and have said ‘if you can’t do it, we will do it’. In my view it’s much better for us to have a final say locally than have it imposed upon us.”

A public consultation on the local plan will happen this summer.