A council leader has slammed Government housing targets as “hugely overstated”.

Leader of Three Rivers District Council, Councillor Sara Bedford, said the number of new homes forced on councils in south east England are more about satisfying Whitehall’s “growth agenda” than meeting real housing needs in the community.

The number of new homes required each year in Three Rivers rose from 180 in 2011, to 615 just five years later. Cllr Bedford said the leap was due to a “change in methodology” by the Government to calculate the total.

In 2018, that number fell by more than 100 a year to 496.

Cllr Bedford said Whitehall refuses to reduce the number of homes it requires to be built and if Three Rivers fails to find sites in the local plan to meet Government demands, the council will “lose control of its own planning department” and the ability to make “democratic decisions”.

Cllr Bedford said: “The Government’s own numbers show a fall of nearly 20 per cent or almost 2,000 homes. That’s a lot of green fields that could be left untouched. The Government should be using realistic and up to date figures, rather than forcing communities to give up precious open spaces to rapacious housing developers.

“Councils and communities need the power to provide the homes they need for residents looking for their first home, those moving on and downsizing. We need lower cost homes for those who cannot afford to buy. What we do not need is the imposition of these targets, which do nothing to address local need.

“I shall be writing to the secretary of state to ask that he reduce the numbers for Three Rivers to at least the latest calculation. Anything else would be a betrayal of Three Rivers’ families.”