Bath and North East Somerset is facing a “huge challenge” after the government said 14,500 homes must be built in the area over the next 20 years.

Locals are being asked to have their say on where the developments should happen in a consultation on the options for Bath and North East Somerset Council’s new local plan. A local plan is prepared every 20 years and determines the planning policy by which new planning applications will be decided, and where different kinds of developments are acceptable.

An “options document” worked on by councillors of all parties which sets out the options for where the houses could go and proposes major new green rules for developers that could be included in the new local plan will go out for public consultation from February 12 to April 8.

The government’s method for calculating housing need says that Bath and North East Somerset will need 725 new homes to be built each year, or 14,500 over the full length of the plan — which the council’s cabinet member for built environment and sustainable development, Matt McCabe said was a “huge challenge.” But he added that 6,000 of these homes already have planning permission or are allocated in the currently local plan — mainly on brownfield sites in Bath — and another 2,000 are expected to come in as a “windfall” outside of council plans.

He said: “[This] means that we’ve got to find 6,500 homes over the next 20 years, which is far more achievable than if we were going straight in at 14,500.”

Options for where the houses could go include a huge northern expansion of Keynsham, an expansion of Saltford, moving the Brislington Park and Ride to accommodate a major new development straddling the border with Bristol, and for many villages in rural North East Somerset to grow by about 5% over the period of the plan.

Speaking at the scrutiny panel meeting, Saltford councillor Duncan Hounsell urged the council not to “change the essential character” of existing villages with major expansions and instead “create a new community in North East Somerset from scratch.”

He said: “Imagine the excitement and prestige of developing a showcase village with the very best of design, energy conservation, and community facilities. [Bath and North East Somerset] can demonstrate excellence in planning that can be a showcase to the whole country.”

The new local plan could also double the green requirements on developers. Last year, the council brought in new rules requiring a boost in nature — known as “biodiversity net gain” — of at least 10% at new developments ahead of the national rollout of the policy. Now the new local plan could see that requirement increased to 20%.

Council cabinet member for climate emergency and sustainable travel, Sarah Warren, said: “Following on from last year’s local plan partial update which put us in poll position on environmental protections in planning policy, we are proposing this year to start to go even further — testing the limits of national planning policy — in response to our climate and ecological emergency declarations.”

Mr McCabe urged people to have their say in the consultation. He said: “We are treading a fine line between our aspirations and what the final planning inspector will say is viable for developers. So evidence is key — and the results of the consultations with residents count as evidence.”

People can view the options document online as a 422-page “web book,” with hard copies also available in libraries. Exhibitions will also be held at some locations and webinars will be held on some policy areas.

Council leader Kevin Guy added: “I would encourage every single resident to take part in this plan. I cannot underestimate its importance. It will be guiding the economic strategy, where houses go, where development goes, for the next ten years and beyond so it is important you have your say.”

LDRS, John Wimperis