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Rural campaigners blast minister’s plan to rip up two million acres of countryside for new housing
Nick Boles branded 'intellectual gadfly' and conservationists urged him to 'get serious', adding new building should focus on sites already developedBoles told BBC2's Newsnight programme that ministers would protect Green Belt – but warned large areas of 'open land' may have to be given over
00:41 GMT, 29 November 2012
Nick Boles, pictured, came under fire from conservationists for making decisions 'on the back of a fag packet'
The Planning Minister was accused of allowing developers to ‘let rip’ on the countryside last night, as he warned up to two million acres of green fields may have to be dug up for new housing.
Nick Boles came under fire from conservationists for making decisions ‘on the back of a fag packet’ after he declared that the amount of land under development in the UK may have to increase by a third to tackle the housing shortage.
They branded the former think tank boss an ‘intellectual gadfly’ and urged him to ‘get serious’, adding new building should focus on so-called brownfield sites that have previously been developed.
Mr Boles told BBC2’s Newsnight programme that ministers would protect the Green Belt – but warned that large areas of ‘open land’ may have to be given over for housing.
While Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, acknowledged that more housing was needed, he warned against allowing developers free rein.
He also pointed out official figures suggest 12 per cent of England is already built on.
Mr Spiers said: ‘Rather than giving up on good planning and allowing housebuilders to let rip, we should be re-using the tens of thousands of hectares of brownfield land available for high quality affordable housing.
‘When he was running a think tank, Nick Boles specialised in interesting if somewhat unrealistic ideas. He is no longer an intellectual gadfly – he is a minister with a serious job.’
Ben Cowell of the National Trust said: ‘I think these figures sound very much like “back of the fag packet” calculations to me.
Mr Boles told BBC2's Newsnight programme that ministers would protect the Green Belt – but warned that large areas of 'open land' may have to be given over for housing
‘Three per cent of the country is an area about the size of Cornwall and we don’t think that you need to build on greenfield land to quite this extent. We need to integrate properly new development into the landscape. ‘Making an announcement like this about opening up a third of extra land for development sort of opens the floodgates to development that isn’t planned in that way.’
Sue Holden, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, described Mr Boles’s intervention as ‘extremely disconcerting’. She said house building on the scale he outlined would fuel massive demand for quarrying and result in ‘further fragmentation of irreplaceable habitats’.
However Mr Boles’s intervention was welcomed by business. Corin Taylor, of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Nick Boles is absolutely right – we need more housing, and the only way to get it is to build it.’ Speaking to the BBC, Mr Boles also hit out at developers for building ‘pig ugly’ housing estates that deter communities from accepting new development.
Mr Boles will step up his campaign today with a speech to planners in which he will vow to take on Nimbys and local authorities who try to block new housing.