A political row has broken out over “secret” plans to “build a new city like Milton Keynes” in the Cotswolds.

Cotswold District Council’s Liberal Democrat leader Joe Harris (St Michael’s) has fiercely criticised the idea of building 23,000 new homes between Cirencester and Kemble.

This comes after the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed last week that Shire Hall bosses have been developing a long-term growth vision for the county since 2020.

A leaked document, which has previously been shared with the leadership of all the county’s districts, suggests creating several garden towns to help build 142,000 across Gloucestershire by 2051.

Some 36,000 of these new homes would be built in the Cotswold District and one such newly designed town could be built at Kemble and would link Cirencester to the village’s railway station.

Cllr Harris fears the scale of such proposals would create a new city like Milton Keynes and would impact the Cotswolds’ unique character and infrastructure.

But Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative leader Mark Hawthorne (Quedgeley) says the leaked document was produced “with the full knowledge and involvement of the six districts, including Cotswold District Council”.

Its purpose was purely to stimulate a countywide conversation about strategic spatial needs and it will ultimately be up to each district where housing is built, he said.

But Cllr Harris has denounced the secretive nature of the document and questions the viability of the plans which would nearly double the existing housing stock of the Cotswolds which has around 38,000 homes.

“These plans are staggering to say the least,” he said. “It would create a new city like Milton Keynes in the Cotswolds.

“Doubling the number of dwellings in our district isn’t a sustainable solution to the housing crisis; it’s simply unworkable and would lack community support,” remarked Harris.

“The Cotswolds are world-renowned as a special place to visit and developing new affordable homes is already hard as eighty percent of our district is in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“As a result most of the development in our area is already falling on Cirencester and Moreton-in-Marsh which are just outside of the AONB.

“Our approach should prioritise developing brown-field sites and smaller-scale developments that offer genuinely affordable housing while preserving our area’s distinctive character,” he added.

“Our roads, sewage network, and healthcare services are already stretched thinly.

“Implementing these proposals would only exacerbate these challenges, turning the Cotswolds into a construction site for the foreseeable future. These plans were concocted behind closed doors, with little regard for transparency or genuine community engagement.”

The County Council has released a chronology which details when meetings took place with the different authorities. And they say briefings with Cotswold District Council took place as recently as last December.

Cllr Hawthorne said the document was produced with the full knowledge and involvement of the six districts. “To state otherwise is demonstrably untrue,” he said.

“The document was created with extensive input from all seven of Gloucestershire’s councils to facilitate discussions about where future housing needs could be met across Gloucestershire.

“Its purpose was purely to stimulate a countywide conversation about strategic spatial needs and aid the districts in producing their Local Plans in a collaborative and strategic way.

“How Cllr Harris can infer that as leader of CDC he was unaware of his officers’ and cabinet member’s involvement in the production of this document is astonishing.

“Either he is not in touch on what is going on in his council or his statement is deliberately misleading. Residents deserve representatives who can work together on the big issues – not councils who squabble and put politics above leadership.

“Cllr Harris knows that the county council has no responsibility for housing, but we do have responsibility to work with district councils on transport issues and this document is a direct result of us working with all six districts to do just that. It cannot, and will never be a county council policy or plan as this is beyond our statutory powers.”

But Cllr Harris said he fears Cllr Hawthorne is “playing smoke and mirrors” on this issue. He acknowledges that the County Council did share the document with the district council and some meetings took place about the strategy.

But he said he has had no meetings with Gloucestershire County Council on this and neither did their cabinet member for planning.

“It was made clear to the District Council by Shire Hall that any conversations were confidential and the document was marked confidential and not for public consumption, he added.

“These plans have been the brainchild of the County Council, authored by them, pushed by them and led by them.

“The Conservatives wanted to keep this secret from the public and the only reason the public are aware of them now is because it has leaked.

“That’s the key point here. I’m pleased to hear Cllr Hawthorne state that this is not County Council policy and hope he’ll make an unequivocal statement that these plans are being consigned to the dustbin.”