BARNSLEY'S desperate need for more development land should not come at the expense of the environment, a council watchdog has said.

According to the Economy and Skills Scrutiny Commission, its recent investigation into the council’s new development plans heard that available office accommodation has halved over the last year - and that almost one million square feet of industrial space has been snapped up.

This has left the borough with an acute shortage, particularly of the large units major new employers would be looking for.

However, members were told that 77 per cent of the borough was classed as green belt, meaning all of Barnsley’s existing infrastructure was squeezed into the remaining 23%.

As a result, only 137 hectares of reusable brownfield land had been identified for possible future development.

The watchdog has considered its findings and will submit its recommendations to the council next week, and although they acknowledged that some green belt would have to be built on in future in order to attract major new employers and secure extra jobs, they're seeking reassurance that this would be kept to a minimum.

Cllr Richard Wraith, said: "It's an unavoidable fact that major new development is needed in Barnsley in order to bring in the thousands of jobs we need over the next few years, and there's simply not enough room left within our existing development borders.

"However, green belt is very important to local people and rightly so, and development in these areas must be very carefully planned. We need a future for Barnsley that is sustainable and that means new jobs have to be found - but they must not come at the expense of our environmental heritage."

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