WORK on the biggest housing project in Oxford will start no later than December 2013, Oxford City Council has revealed.

The Barton West development has moved a step closer after council chiefs shortlisted possible investors.

Once complete, the 90-acre site, which lies to the north-east of the city close to the A40, will be made up of 1,000 new homes.

Barton West is the largest undeveloped residential site within the city and is seen as the key to helping alleviate Oxford’s chronic housing shortage.

With that in mind, the council has said it wants construction to start by December 2013.

The land is owned by Oxford City Council and it will set up a joint venture with an investment partner to develop the new estate.

More than 20 companies bid to be part of the project and British Land Company Plc, Grosvenor Investments Limited, St Modwen Properties Plc and Morgan Sindall Investments have all been shortlisted as potential investors.

The council expects to select a single partner by the end of June.

Ed Turner, deputy leader of the Labour-run council, said: “This is the biggest opportunity to make a big contribution to meeting Oxford’s enormous housing needs.

“That is why we want to see a good amount of social rented housing.”

However, due to the high cost of building access roads and community facilities, councillors admit they may not get the 50 per cent of “affordable” homes such a site would normally demand.

The council said at least 40 per cent of the houses will be “affordable” and is confident this is financially viable.

Mr Turner added: “This is a very difficult site to develop because of the high cost of infrastructure to be funded, particularly a road into the site that does not put a huge strain on Barton and the requirement for a new school.

“The big question is what we can get shared ownership-wise on top.”

The deputy leader said a joint venture was the best option for the city.

If the council were to go it alone it would have to finance the project itself which exposed it to massive risk, he said.

Selling the site would mean the council relinquishing all control and raised the potential of the important housing site being “land banked” and not developed for years to come.

Green city councillor Elise Benjamin said the council should develop 50 per cent of the site as affordable housing and not drop its requirement.

She added: “It opens the floodgates for everyone else to do it.”

Barton West gained more importance last year when changes to the Government’s planning policy effectively ended hopes of developing a 4,000-home site south of Grenoble Road, near Greater Leys.