HOUSE-BUILDING targets could drop closer to 400 a year under plans being put forward by the borough’s Conservative administration.

At a meeting of councillors last week, the ruling Tories called on officers to explore the “lowest possible” annual housing target after residents said too many new homes are built every year.

Under changes being imposed by the Coalition Government, local councils are now free to set their own annual house-building targets. Previously, a target of 945 homes a year was forced upon the borough under Labour’s South East Plan.

As a result of the change in policy, council officers have been looking at what figure to set for the borough, having held a major consultation with residents at the end of last year. This target, however, still has to be agreed by a Government insp-ector.

A report, considered by members of the council’s planning and infrastructure committee last week, suggested two house-building targets for the borough based on criteria, including population changes. The first option suggested building 722 homes each year, with a second, lower option of 594. It is claimed both figures should gain the backing of a Government inspector.

A motion put forward by committee chairman Cllr Stephen Reid called on members to support the lower figure but also to ask officers to work towards a figure of 400 homes a year. He said members must try to get the target as low as possible.

But Liberal Democrat councillor Paula Baker labelled the drive for lower housing figures as “superficial”, and said it would not be robust enough to be upheld by an inspector.

Independent Cllr Martin Biermann agreed, adding new homes are needed if the council is to push forward with schemes for economic growth.

Lib Dem Cllr Keith Watts put forward another motion, calling on the committee to support a figure of 722 homes a year. Cllr Watts said if a lower housing target were rejected by an inspector, it would leave the borough more vulnerable to unwanted development.

Conservative group leader Cllr Robert Donnell rebuffed the motion, saying 722 homes would lead to “2,000 more homes being built on greenfield sites”.

The Lib Dem motion was defeated by the Tories, who pushed through their 594 homes motion. Officers will now report back to the committee with their findings, which will help to inform Cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, Cllr Rob Golding, who will decide what figure will be submitted to the inspector by next April.