As many as 8,500 new homes could be built on the edge of Halstead as an alternative to plans to build three new garden communities.

The North Essex Authorities, which is made up of councils in Braintree, Colchester and Tendring, says it will be undertaking tests to see if existing towns and villages in north Essex would be able to take on an extra 2,000 new homes.

A letter sent to the planning inspector Roger Clews shows Halstead is one of towns set to be considered.

Tests will take place to establish if it would be possible to build an extra 2,000 homes on the eastern side of the town.

The letter said this would not include a bypass.

A second option which could see as many as 8,500 homes built has also been mooted. This move would include a new bypass, which would link the A131 directly with the A1124 along Colchester Road.

Braintree Council has confirmed Halstead is one of the towns in the district which will be tested to see if it can take on thousands of new homes.

A spokesman added: “In response to the planning inspector’s letter following the Local Plan examination, the North Essex Authorities are required to reconsider reasonable alternatives for strategic growth in North Essex through the sustainability appraisal.

“The results of the appraisal will be considered by members of each authority to consider whether amendments should be put forward to the local plan, for example to replace one of the existing garden community allocations in the plan with one or more of the alternative sites.”

Other towns and large villages in the district such as Braintree, Witham and Great Notley will also be tested to see if they could be extended.

Braintree Council says the results of these tests will be subject to a public consultation, before a report is put together in January and presented to a planning inspector.

The North Essex Authorities’ preferred option of building three new garden communities was deemed “not sound” by planning experts back in June.

An inspector stated significant work was needed on the proposals.

If approved, the scheme would see new developments built to the east and west of Braintree, as well as to the east of Colchester.