Building houses will create more ‘human happiness’ than preserving fields, the Planning Minister has claimed.
Nick Boles says the Government is determined to speed up the rate of house building, despite opposition from countryside groups.
And he said communities who refused to support the initiative risked losing their hospitals and high street shops as their populations shrank.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Boles acknowledged that rural rights campaigners and Conservative supporters were ‘very worried’ when greenfield land was replaced by ‘the sheer ugliness and soullessness of housing estates’.
But he insisted that current planning laws were sending Britain ‘back to the 19th century’ when only the wealthy could afford their own home.
He said: ‘The sum of human happiness that is created by the houses that are being built is vastly greater than the economic, social and environmental value of a field that was growing wheat or rape.’
His comments were met with a furious reaction from environmental campaigners who said the reforms would cause ‘further sprawl’ in the countryside.
In Mr Boles’s Grantham constituency, 7,000 homes are being built on greenfield land.
Defending the plans, he said: ‘The only way we will get to hang on to the services we want to have, the local hospital, the only way we’ll get M&S back and get a John Lewis at some future point, is if the population of the town grows.’
The minister revealed he intends to bring in a further wave of changes to planning rules to ease the housing crisis, including:
- Bribing home owners with compensation if new development causes their house price to fall;
- Allowing agricultural barns to be converted into residential housing without the need for planning permission;
- Changing high street planning rules to make it easier for shops to be converted into homes;
- ‘Bullying’ developers into building ‘more beautiful’ homes rather than ‘soulless, identikit rabbit hutches’;
- Pressing developers to speed up building on land that has planning permission.
Mr Boles said: ‘It’s a difficult thing to be a Conservative MP arguing for more houses to be built, sometimes on green fields.’
But he branded councils who refuse to co-operate ‘deeply irresponsible’.
He said: ‘There’s no question that some local authorities are dragging their feet.
‘Some of them think to themselves they will sit on their hands and let applications come in and refuse them and then blame Nick Boles. It’s deeply irresponsible.
‘They’re elected to serve their communities and take responsibility for the difficult stuff as well as the easy stuff.’
The Campaign to Protect Rural England chief executive Shaun Spiers said the moves could damage both the countryside and town centres.
He added: ‘Housing can make people happier than fields but that doesn’t mean it is necessary to spoil fields to produce the new houses that we need.
‘All this is the antithesis of good planning. You get transport on inappropriate roads.
‘You suck the life out of high streets, empty inner cities and create further sprawl as you drive people out of towns to go shopping because Nick Boles has converted town centre shops to residential use.’