ROOM for more than 28,000 homes needs to be found across south Worcestershire - 5,000 more than first planned.
A Government planning inspector has ruled that the number of properties in the county's controversial growth blueprint is nowhere near enough, and must surge 22 per cent before it can be accepted.
The decision will have a huge impact on communities across Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon, which have fiercely opposed even the old tally of 23,200 properties.
Inspector Roger Clews' stance has been labelled "very disappointing" by politicians, with many in Worcester lining up to say the city has already agreed as many as it can take.
West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin, meanwhile, is blaming Birmingham, saying the Second City is only building 51,000 more homes despite being more than three times bigger.
Mr Clews needs to sign off the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) before it can adopted by all three district councils.
Has just concluded a fresh examination on the document, which runs to 2030, and says it must contain 28,370 properties.
Only three months ago, after Mr Clews had first announced the old figure was too small, it was increased to 27,300 by the three councils in the hope he would then nod it through.
In reaching his fresh findings Mr Clews says he has taken into account the Government's directive to build more homes to cope with population growth, which has driven recent planning guidance.
All three councils now say work is underway to identify where the extra development could go.
Councillor Judy Pearce, who chairs the south Worcestershire Joint Advisory Panel, said: "We know many people will be unhappy at the level of housing the inspector has proposed, but the only way we can secure a locally-controlled future for south Worcestershire is to ensure that plan gets to the stage where it can be adopted as quickly as possible.
"Once adopted, the SWDP will give the three councils control over where new homes and businesses are built.
"Without it, we face a future where developers can try to build almost anywhere and our powers to resist their applications would be very limited."
Mr Clews has accepted that nearly 5,000 homes already built since 2006 will be included in the overall tally, minimising some of the development.
A further 3,785 properties either currently under construction or with planning permission since 2012 are also included.
Mr Clews stance on finding room for 5,000 new properties means the SWDP can only be agreed in 2015 at the earliest.
Reaction from around south Worcestershire
BATTLE lines are already being drawn across south Worcestershire on where the extra homes will go - amid fears treasured sites are now more vulnerable than ever.
That includes Worcester's Middle Battenhall Farm, which is not in the SWDP but is subject to a planning application by Miller Homes for 200 properties.
Nearby residents have been fighting tooth and nail to block the bid for the green fields, but if Worcester City Council refuses the developer could take it to appeal.
An inspector would then be tasked with either throwing it out, or overturning the decision on the grounds south Worcestershire needs more development.
Yesterday the city council said they hoped it would not come to that, but admitted it would be in the hands of an inspector.
Resident Peter Golds, 61, of Battenhall Road, said: "Nobody wants to lose that lovely patch of land under any circumstances.
"This is meant to be a democracy. The council have got to stay strong about it, they know it's treasured by local people, they've admitted it many times.
"If we need more homes that won't be the place for it, it never has been."
Worcester councillors are already lining up to say the city is "full", and insist the onus should be on Malvern and Wychavon.
The city is already taking 9,400 homes including plans for major urban extensions off Broomhall in south Worcester and next to Dines Green on the west side.
Malvern is only taking 5,000 and Wychavon 8,900.
Councillor Marc Bayliss sat on a guidance board which helped create the first SWDP draft.
When asked if it left sites like Middle Battenhall Farm vulnerable he said "yes", but added: "We have a five-year land supply so it should be refused, in my view.
"These 5,000 extra homes are needed across all of south Worcestershire - Worcester, to all interests and purposes is fully developed.
"There is already very little green space left in the city, I find it very difficult see where these new homes can go in Worcester."
Worcester MP Robin Walker said: "Worcester is already making a very big contribution and lots of brownfield sites are being developed for housing.
"Clearly it is going to be difficult and challenging for the councils, they have to work together in the interests of protecting the green spaces we all value.
"But I am disappointed and would much rather we could have stayed with what was in the original SWDP."
The cost of the SWDP has long since topped £500,000.
THE next stage of the process will take place in the summer, possibly June, when all three district councils take formal votes on accepting a figure of 28,370.
By that time, a preferred list of sites will be presented to councillors so they can either accept or reject it.
A rejection would mean a further delay to find new alternatives, but a yes vote by all three would then lead to a public consultation so people can have their say on it.
The aim is to finish that consultation by the end of September, and Mr Clews will then hold the second stage of his examination to consider the sites himself.
That would pave the way for it to be formally adopted in 2015.