Planning minister Nick Boles has been blasted by campaigners – and even a councillor from his own party – after suggesting that a third more of the countryside should be built on.
Mr Boles’s claim, that the only way out of the housing crisis was to build many more homes on open land, has been called “absolute madness” by Councillor John Pennington, planning spokesman for the Conservative group at Bradford Council.
In an interview on BBC’s Newsnight, Mr Boles said: “In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about nine per cent of land developed. All we need to do is build on another two to three per cent of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”
Mr Boles said he did not want “lazy” builders to build “pig ugly” houses, and urged them to work with local communities.
He said: “The built environment can be more beautiful than nature and we shouldn’t obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open – sometimes buildings are better.”
But Coun Pennington (Con, Bingley) said: “In my view this is absolute madness.
“I think there are two angles to this. Firstly, we should develop the brownfield sites we already have and we shouldn’t dig up a single square metre of virgin grassland.
“Secondly, it’s all right saying build all these new houses, but who is going to afford to buy them? Because people can’t get mortgages. The housing market is absolutely on its knees.”
Councillor Val Slater, the executive member for housing on the Labour-run Council, said Mr Boles’s idea was too simplistic.
She said: “I do acknowledge the need for more homes, given the increasing population in Bradford and recent figures showing how many people we have got on the waiting lists for affordable homes.
“However, we need to offer the right homes in the right place at the right price.”
Coun Slater said Bradford Council was working hard to get more brownfield sites developed and more empty homes brought back into use, but she added that there were not enough previously-developed sites to meet demand.
A campaigner fighting development on green fields near Bingley also called for any new homes to be built on brownfield sites first.
Terry Brown is chairman of the Greenhill Action Group, which is opposing plans by developers Bellway and Redrow to build up to 440 homes on canalside land in Sty Lane, Micklethwaite.
The plans have been rejected by Local Government and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles but the developers have signalled their intent to mount a legal challenge to it.
Mr Brown said: “We really believe brownfield sites should be developed before any greenfield sites, let alone green belt land.”
He said the Government had also acknowledged the importance of green spaces to people’s health and happiness.
One developer which wants to build homes on brownfield land is Town Centre Securities Limited, which is working on plans to build about 82 homes on part of the Barratts shoes site in Apperley Bridge.
David Woolman, the company’s asset manager, said about 15 per cent of the homes would be classed as affordable housing.
He said it was the kind of development that should be encouraged.
He said: “It’s run down and disused really, so this is the kind of site the I would have thought the politicians would like to see houses built on.”
He said they were aiming to apply for outline planning permission before Christmas.