THE suspension of crunch meetings to decide the future of Bury’s housing needs could lead to a planning “free-for-all”, according to a councillor.

Meetings to decide whether Bury’s core strategy is up to scratch were stalled after independent planning inspector Malcolm Rivett said there was “little prospect of the plan as a whole being found sound”.

The strategy sets out the development vision for the next 15 years, and identifies how much more housing, employment and retail Bury needs until 2029.

Developers say Bury should provide for between 800 and 1,000 homes a year, but Bury Council says that there is only space for 400 without encroaching on the Green Belt which it says it will work to protect.

Possible development plans for Gin Hall in Walmersley had been on the agenda for the meetings, which started last month, about which Mr Rivett had previously expressed concerns.

Conservtaive councillor James Daly said the the suspension of the meeting could put the Green Belt under threat. He added: “We are concerned that the suspension of the examination will lead to a planning free-for-all, as we will continue to rely on the Bury Unitary Development Plan passed in 1997.”

Nicole Haydock, Bury Green Party joint co-ordinator, said the suspension was “regrettably” the right decision, but would leave the council’s planning department with no policies and grounds to oppose inappropriate applications.

She said: “This is an extremely serious development as it leaves Bury Council, yet again, without a plan for many months or years to come. It is nothing short of a disaster for the council and local people.”

Cllr Sandra Walmsley said: “Developers already have permission to build 3,000 new houses in Bury but have not yet done so.

"The council has been put in a very difficult position, as government planning guidance continues to change and seeks to force local authorities to find more and more land for housing to increase house-building rates across the country, regardless of local constraints and public opinion.”

David Fowler, the council’s chief planning officer, added: “Bury’s core strategy has been prepared to meet future development needs in what the council considers is a sustainable manner.

"As such, it seeks to meet housing needs in a balanced way by protecting the borough’s environment and promoting the use of ‘brownfield’ land in urban areas.

“However, the inspector needs to be convinced that Bury’s future housing needs will be met — either in this borough or elsewhere — before he can comment on the overall strategy.

"Accordingly, we will need to consider what work is required to provide the inspector with the information that he needs.”

The inspector will write to the council over the next few weeks to explain his concerns in more detail.