A GOVERNMENT minister has criticised plans to transform the centre of a historic Hampshire city.

Liberal Democrat Lord Newby, deputy government chief whip in the House of Lords, said a lack of affordable homes in Winchester's Silver Hill scheme could turn housing in the city centre into the preserve of the rich.

Developer Henderson was allowed to drop 100 affordable homes and a bus station from its £150 million plans to redevelop part of the city centre.

Lord Newby said: “How many chances do you get in a year to build affordable housing in this city?

“We can't have a situation where, really, the only people who can afford to live in the centre are the rich. It's just not good for a balanced and fair community.”

Lord Newby said that while affordable rents, capped at 80 per cent of market rate, are still out of reach for low-income families, it was “better than what's being proposed” and could lead to even lower rents in future.

He said: “If you can get affordable housing being built off the back of commercial development like this ... it starts a process.”

He criticised civic chiefs for allowing Henderson to propose the changes, saying councils will be “nibbled away at” if they don't stand firm on policy.

“We're not talking about a difficult ex-industrial town,” he said. “There's going to be no shortage biting off the hands to get a site like this in the centre of a historic town like Winchester.

“You can't miss an opportunity like this.”

Henderson has now pledged a minimum of £1 million towards affordable housing elsewhere in the city, rising to £2 million if Silver Hill turns a 15 per cent profit. Lord Newby said it could afford more than this.

“I used to work for a property developer,” he said. “My experience is that they drive a very hard bargain. If you can say 'right, a million quid', I'd suggest you haven't got to the bottom line.”

Jackie Porter, who is running for Winchester's parliamentary seat next May, said the Lib Dems' plan to build 300,000 homes a year would bring down rents in the city and pressure needed to be put on the city council to demand affordable housing as part of the scheme.

Winchester has been identified as a key strategic seat for the party ahead of next year's general election.