THE Government has issued a stern warning about Council plans to build more than 10,000 homes on the district’s green belt, saying it was “absolutely clear” it should be protected in all but exceptional circumstances.

Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid has decided not to intervene at this stage in Bradford Council’s plans to earmark new land for housing and industry, which would see around a quarter of the homes built on the green belt.

He has lifted an order preventing the authority from progressing with its Local Plan, which he had placed in October while he looked into concerns raised by Shipley MP Philip Davies about the loss of green belt land in Wharfedale.

But in a letter to the Council, his planning minister Gavin Barwell warned that this did not mean they approved of the use of green belt land.

He said the restrictions were only being lifted because the boundaries of the green belt were not being changed at this stage.

And in a separate letter to Mr Davies, Mr Barwell said: “In reaching this decision, the Secretary of State is not accepting that exceptional circumstances exist to justify the amendments of any specific green belt boundaries in Bradford.

“Our recently published White Paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, underlines the Government’s continuing commitment to protecting the green belt, we are absolutely clear that green belt land must be protected and that local authorities should promote development on brownfield land first.

“We are clear when assessing whether green belt boundaries should be reviewed, this can only take place in exceptional circumstances.”

He said the Government would consider intervening at a later date, once the plans are more specific, if the Council failed to demonstrate these exceptional circumstances.

And he said that in the meantime, Mr Javid would consider intervening in any “speculative applications” from developers hoping to build on the green belt.

Mr Davies said he “really couldn’t ask for more” from ministers.

He said: “This is a warning shot across the bows to the Council. They should be looking to respond to that clear direction he’s given.”

Council planning bosses take the view that ‘exceptional circumstances’ exist because there would not be enough land for housing without building on the green belt.

Bradford Council’s leader, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, welcomed the lifting of the holding restriction.

She said: “The Secretary of State confirms our view that green belt should only be developed in exceptional circumstances. We agree.

“We have as much concern about the countryside and want to protect it as much as anyone else.”

The Save Tong Valley campaign is opposing plans to extend Holme Wood into the green belt south-east of Bradford.

The Rev Canon Gordon Dey, of the campaign, said the minister’s comments were “hugely significant” for green space campaigners.

He said: “I think what’s happening here is the Government is saying, ‘We are on your case and we are watching very carefully’.’”

But Councillor Anne Hawkesworth (Ind, Ilkley), who supported Mr Davies’ decision to call in the plan, was less optimistic.

She said: “The Minister hasn’t taken into account that the numbers are just too high, and the numbers in Wharfedale will have to come out of the green belt.”

Allan Booth, chairman of Bradford Property Forum, said he was pleased the plan had been released by the Government.

He said: “The main concerns are obviously over building on the green belt, and I would encourage the Council to look at site allocations and bring brownfield sites forward as the preference.

“But, some building on the green belt is inevitable.”