Thousands of new homes are set to be built on the Green Belt in the biggest relaxation to planning protections for 30 years.
A new Government consultation proposes to change strict rules that only allow building on the ribbon of greenfield land around towns and cities which prevents urban sprawl in exceptional circumstances.
Instead councils will be allowed “to allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the Green Belt specifically for starter homes”, which are designed for young families, the Government said.
The changes, which were published quietly on Monday, are likely to be seized on by developers which have long coveted the protected Green Belt land.
The reforms are the first changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which brought in a new bias in favour of development when it was introduced against the wishes of rural campaigners in 2012.
A requirement that land in the Green Belt which is lost to builders has to be replaced is not contained in the new changes. Instead this will be optional for local communities.
The consultation said: “We consider that the current policy can hinder locally-led development and propose to amend national planning policy so that neighbourhood plans can allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the Green Belt specifically for start homes.”
Local areas would have the “discretion to determine the scope of a small-scale site”, it said.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said the loosening of the restrictions would see thousands more new homes built on the Green Belt, which was introuced in 1955 to prevent urban sprawl.
A report from the CPRE published in March this year found that more than 219,000 houses were planned for England’s green belt, 60,000 more than in August 2013.
Paul Miner, the CPRE’s planning campaign manager, said the reforms amounted to “the biggest change in terms of housing, since probably the 1980s”.
He said: “We will probably see thousands more houses come through in the Green Belt as a result of these changes every year.
“The current policy isn’t working, but these proposals will make things worse. It could see a lot more planning battles in the countryside over coming years.”
Mr Miner said the CPRE would like anyone concerned about the changes to reply to the consultation. The deadline for responses is before the end of next month.
Clive Betts MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government, said the consultation was “very worrying”.
He said: “I have no problem with a proper review of the Green Belt to see whether it is all appropriate or whether more should be added in.
“But that is how it should be done, not as a bit of opportunity to cherry pick the best sites by developers, which this sounds like it could develop into.”
He added that he was “concerned by the proposal and absolutely alarmed” by the “rushed nature” of the consultation over the Christmas period.
The changes were signalled by David Cameron in a speech in the west Midlands, in which he said he wanted to see nearly 200,000 “starter homes” built every year.
Starter homes are new homes for a first time buyers under the age of 40 which are sold at a 20 per cent discount from the market rate. They are properties worth no more £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 in the capital.
However the Prime Minister made no mention of the specific relaxation on protections for the Green Belt during his speech.
He said he these new “proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework” would make a “reality” of his plan to ensure more affordable homes were built.
The reforms “send a clear signal – to the councils that sign off developments, and the developers that build the homes”.
Speaking in New York on Monday evening, George Osborne (above), the Chancellor, described the need to build more new homes as “a perennial British challenge”.
He said: “Because we are an island and because over many centuries our property laws have entrenched the rights of homeowners it is quite difficult to build homes in Britain.
“Everyone is in theory in favour but no one wants them near them. The answer is going to be trying to get more homes built. I don’t want to give up on the aspiration of home ownership.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Planning policy maintains strong protections for the Green Belt.
“Our proposals only relate to housing that has been included in a neighbourhood plan, designed by the local community and approved by local people in a referendum.
“Ultimately our planning reforms mean that local people decide where developments should and shouldn’t go.
“We want to deliver the homes this country needs to ensure anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home, has the opportunity to do so.”