STEPS are being taken to address a housing shortfall in the borough, a planning inspector heard as the council defends its decision to refuse plans for 174 more homes in Westhoughton.

The four-day public inquiry into the second phase of the Bowlands Hey development started at the town hall yesterday following an appeal by developer Bellway Homes.

The council, represented by barrister Stephanie Hall, said that Bolton's five-year supply of housing is improving, referring to the revised Greater Manchester draft masterplan which takes a "fresh approach".

The planning and local government barrister said: "Whilst this has limited weight at present, it is indicative that the plan-led system is aware of the under-delivery and is taking a planned approach to address this."

Several other controversial housing developments have been turned down by the council's planning committee but successfully overturned by appeal, including the first phase of the Bowlands Hey development.

Considering the appeal for 129 homes, planning inspector Hayden Baugh-Jones, decided there were benefits to the development referring to the local authority's housing shortfall.

Representing Bellway Homes, David Manley told planning inspector Helen Heward that other inspectors deemed the council's protected open land policy to be out of date.

He also reminded those at the public inquiry that the council can only demonstrate a housing supply for the next three and a half years.

He said: "What is vital to remember in Bolton is that if there is to be any development outside the urban area in the borough, it will have to be on other protected land or green belt.

"Bolton has expressly accepted at appeals that some open protected land development is necessary for the housing supply to be achieved.”

Local residents who were present for the opening of the inquiry yesterday morning have been given permission to make representations.

They are expected to be invited to speak tomorrow afternoon after expert evidence is heard.

Legal teams from both sides are hoping to give their closing statements tomorrow but a site visit may take place on Friday before a decision is made next week.