A CROSS-PARTY group who met with a government minister yesterday are still torn on housebuilding in the borough and how they can protect the green belt.

The borough’s two MPs were joined by the council leader and opposition leaders at the meeting in Westminster.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse told Bury’s representatives that local authorities cannot simply use lower housing projections from 2016.

However, the council could still try to reduce its proposed housing need, which is currently set at 9,500 for the next 20 years.

The council has proposed building 4,890 of these on green belt land.

According to Bury South MP Ivan Lewis, a reduced figure could be justified if the council can show it has done everything possible to maximise housing in urban areas and negotiate with other councils to take some of its allocation.

The local authority has already offset 2,000 homes from its proposed figures as other boroughs in Greater Manchester have agreed to make space for them.

Bury North MP James Frith said that although the government has not set housing targets, it would be difficult to justify not using the higher numbers.

He said: “Saying the 2014 figures are not targets but that it will be a ‘very high bar’ to justify not meeting these figures is akin to saying we can have any colour car we like so long as it is black.”

However, the group will aim to speak with the planning inspector who will make a final decision on the plan with the aim of reducing numbers.

Council leader Rishi Shori was disappointed that the minister “categorically” ruled out using the newer figures which he said could protect all of the green belt.

He explained that after using all brownfield sites, maximising the density of developments and shifting houses to other boroughs, the council still cannot meet its requirements without building on the green belt.

Cllr Shori said: “He conceded that it would be a very high bar for us to meet to justify not meeting the government’s figures, leaving us with limited options.”

However, opposition councillors did not agree.

Tory leader James Daly said that the local authority can use any figures as long as it makes a strong case enough case.

He said: “We have to show an evidence base which takes into account land availability, density, design, land restraints, the amount that neighbouring boroughs can take.

“The proposal put forward by Labour is not acceptable. We would open discussions with neighbouring boroughs, not just in Greater Manchester, to take some of those houses.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Pickstone said the minister was clear that the need for housing does not automatically mean that green belt land has to be used.

He said: “It’s now up to Bury Council and Greater Manchester to make that strong case to government and make radical changes to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) to save our precious green spaces.”

The public consultation on the 20-year masterplan on homes, jobs and the environment closes on Monday.

Bury Folk Keep It Green are holding a protest march on Sunday at 1pm, starting at Elton High School, to mark the end of the consultation.