Council officers have defended their controversial plans to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money buying up rural land to help meet its own tree-planting target.

The project, which would see the council purchase around 800 acres of property to create a country park, has come under heavy fire.

Critics - who have estimated the land would cost at least £10m - point out it will see public money transferred to wealthy landowners and say it has not been thought through properly.

But at a County Hall meeting on Wednesday, officials stood by the scheme, even if they could not say how much it would cost.

The project has been designed to help meet the Conservative administration's 2019-set target to plant a million trees by 2025.

They say the scheme will create a park for the public and planting 500,000 trees there would offset the authority's carbon emissions.

Eastern Daily Press: Chrissie RumsbyChrissie Rumsby (Image: Labour Party)

But, at Wednesday's meeting, Labour councillor Chrissie Rumsby said the public would struggle to understand how a council with a multi-million pound budget deficit over four years was now saying it wanted to "buy land half the size of Hemsby or Watton to put trees in".

She said: "A lot of people will be thinking 'where is that money coming from?' and 'does that mean we are making a cut to something else?'"

John Jones, the council's head of environment, said thorough analysis had been done to show the investment was worth making, but that the figures would not be available until cabinet is asked to make the final decision.

Labour county councillor Maxine Webb said the Conservative administration should be "honest" about its motivation for wanting to create the park - that it would be embarrassing for them if it failed to hit the million trees target.

She called for the council to consider extending the target beyond 2025 and to increase the number of trees it aimed to plant in the years after that.

Eastern Daily Press: Eric VardyEric Vardy (Image: Supplied by the Conservatives)

But Eric Vardy, the council's cabinet member for environment and waste, insisted it was not a face-saving exercise.

He said: "We are not seeking to do this for any political reason other than to make this county a better place to live in."