NORTH Devon and Torridge council chiefs have expressed their surprise at new housing development guidelines which could mean nearly 22,000 new homes are built in the two districts between now and 2026. Under guidelines published by an independent panel of

NORTH Devon and Torridge council chiefs have expressed their surprise at new housing development guidelines which could mean nearly 22,000 new homes are built in the two districts between now and 2026.Under guidelines published by an independent panel of Government advisors on Thursday, it is recommended that Torridge increases the number of dwellings in the region by 10,700 over the next 20 years - a massive 122.9 per cent more than the figure originally anticipated.In North Devon, the report suggests that 10,900 new homes need to be built in the same period -an increase of 34.6 per cent on original guidelines.On a yearly basis, that would mean Torridge District Council would be required to plan for 535 new homes. North Devon District Council would have to satisfy targets of 545 new dwellings a year, some 360 of which would be in Barnstaple. The recommendations - described by both authorities as a major challenge - are a response to the South West Regional Assembly's Draft Regional Spatial Strategy (DRSS), an important blueprint for future development in the region.The proposals will be channelled into a modifications document in the spring before the final Regional Spatial Strategy is published in 2009.Maria Bailey, Torridge District Council Community planning manager, said that the original draft figure for Torridge was low and the authority had argued for more housing provision, mainly because of the need for more affordable housing for local people."We were looking for something around the 8,000 mark but were surprised to see the figures," she told the Gazette. "If you look at figures across the South West, Torridge has the greatest increase, despite being one of the least sustainable locations."We were not expecting to see such a high figure and are concerned about the infrastructure difficulties in delivering this significant increase."North Devon District Council Leader Cllr Michael Harrison told the Gazette that the new figure represented an extra 100 homes a year on top of what the authority was currently planning for. "Although we are still digesting the report, this is quite a large increase," he said."The big question the council now needs to answer is whether we create a 'Greater Barnstaple' or a new settlement."Barnstaple is surrounded by a circular view of hills. Do we want to completely cover these in new homes and destroy the very thing that we love?"The town still has a country town feel and this is something that I personally would not like to see go.