Plans to develop almost 5,000 homes on land in the Braintree district have been pushed back after the MoD decided it was needed for its defence priorities.

The move means Wethersfield, headquarters of the Ministry of Defence Police, which the MoD had planned to release for as many as 4,850 homes in 2020, will now not be disposed of until 2025.

Three weeks ago the MoD announced a partnership between Homes England and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) to deliver more than 10,000 homes across seven sites, including Wethersfield Airfield.

Braintree Council leader Graham Butland, who has suggested the site as suitable for a new prison, has also been contacted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which is interested in the airfield for a category C prison.

He said: “We have made it clear that we as a planning authority recognise there may be uses for Wethersfield but we would need a lot of convincing that just plonking 5,000 homes there would be sustainable development.

“Why I said a prison is that it would bring jobs, it’s a brownfield site and there are some houses there.

“It might be suitable for some housing but not necessarily all housing and if the MoJ were interested about a possible prison it would bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the district. We’d certainly be interested in discussing that.”

In a letter to Mr  Butland, the MoD said it remains committed to the site’s disposal but the new date allows it to bring forward redevelopment proposals.

The letter says: “As you are aware DIO is working with Homes England on this site and have been in discussion with your planners in regard to supporting the Ministry of Justice for a prison site and a limited number of new dwellings with a longer-term aspiration of greater housing when appropriate.

“This work will not be impacted by today’s announcement.

“We remain committed to the disposal of this site, and the new date gives us an optimum timeline to bring forward redevelopment proposals and to continue working closely together on agreeing the future use of the site.”