RURAL campaigners have delivered a stern message to David Cameron over his planning policy warning if he allows “precious countryside” to be built on it will be gone forever.

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The comments from the Eastern region’s branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) come after Mr Cameron told MPs the country needs to build on greenfield to meet housing demand.

He was questioned in a parliamentary committee about the assertion of his planning minister Nick Boles, who has said 9% of England had been built on when it should be 12% in order to meet the needs of UK residents.

The Prime Minister said: “He was making a point that we are not building enough houses. If we want to build more houses, we will have to build on some greenfield sites.”

The Government has repeatedly targeted the planning system for reform, claiming it is obstructive and blaming it for holding back development and the economic growth it can bring.

Mr Cameron’s first big reform - the National Planning Policy Framework - left some campaigners worried ministers were tilting the planning system too far in developers’ favour.

More recently Mr Cameron announced plans to weaken the legal powers available to the public to call decisions, including those on planing matters, in for judicial review.

Michael Monk of the CPRE said: “My immediate reaction to the Prime Minister’s words is to say that we do recognise that we need more houses, but that we have to accept the reason more houses aren’t being built is not because of planning restrictions but because of the current economic situation.

“I strongly support regeneration in urban areas and the development of brownfield sites, which must come first.

“CPRE research indicates there is sufficient brownfield land to build 1.5m homes in the UK - that has to come first before we use up our dwindling and precious countryside - when it’s gone, it’s gone. We don’t get it back.

“I want to underline strongly the point that there is no going back.”

Mr Monk said the CPRE accepted not only that there was a need to build homes, but also to develop some greenfield sites in England as an absolute last resort.

But he disputed the claims only 9% of England was developed, claiming that CPRE research showed the figure already to be close to, or at, the Government’s suggested 12pc limit.

Discussing wider Coalition planning policy Mr Monk said: “While we understand the need to simplify the system, it has been very complicated, we’re concerned about the motivation behind some reforms; that they’re intended to weaken, rather than reform the planning system.

“Local groups concerned about this feel very strongly that the system is already in favour of the developers, while the reforms will allow developers to ride over local concerns.

“That seems to fly in the face of the localism that the Government wants to promote.”“Local groups concerned about this feel very strongly that the system is already in favour of the developers, while the reforms will allow developers to ride over local concerns.

“That seems to fly in the face of the localism that the government wants to promote.”

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