THE council has rubbished government claims that local authorities are not being forced to build on the green belt.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse told parliament last week that targets used in the city-region’s 20-year masterplan are not mandatory.

He said: “I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the notion that this is somehow a mandatory number that local authorities have to hit.”

Mayor Andy Burnham, who maintains that Greater Manchester has been left with no choice but to build homes in the countryside, described the comments as "misleading".

According to the figures used in the revised plan, Bury needs to build 11,500 homes, although other boroughs have agreed to make space for some of these.

Under the current proposal, Bury would release seven per cent of its green belt to accommodate almost half of the remaining 9,500 homes.

A further five per cent would be released to build the Northern Gateway industrial site which could create 25,000 jobs.

However, this calculation uses an older methodology which comes out higher than the 2016 figures by the Office for National Statistics.

Bury would only need to build 7,500 homes using the new formula and it could shift more of these to other boroughs.

Therefore, no homes would be built on Bury's green belt if the council used these figures, according to cabinet member for housing Eamonn O'Brien.

But he dismissed the minister's comments as "typical Conservative game playing".

He said: "On the one hand the government are saying that the figures are not mandatory, but on the other they are specifically saying that we cannot use the lower 2016 figures. It does not make any sense."

A letter from Secretary of State for Housing to the Bury Conservative leader earlier in the month also stated that the housing need figure is "not a target".

In fact, the government already said it would not be a mandatory target in October, but it would not allow councils to use the 2016-based projections to justify lower figures.

Tory leader James Daly said having a high proportion of green belt land, like Bury does, is a "perfectly reasonable" argument for lower numbers.

He said: "If you believe that we should protect a green belt then there’s an argument."

The council is awaiting a meeting with the housing minister to clear up the matter.