The Government must rein in its ‘proposals for massive growth areas’ of new housing in the green fields of South East of England or risk lasting damage to the countryside, say rural campaigners.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott’s housing plan – which would build half a million new homes across Northampton, Cambridgeshire, Kent and the wider South East – ‘could devastate the countryside,’ according to the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE).

The plan could also further damage declining urban areas of brownfield land which are calling out for investment and attention. Mr Prescott’s ‘centralist imposition of top-down targets’ does not take into consideration the environmental impact on local areas, according to the CPRE.

The CPRE’s Communities not Concrete campaign calls on people to write to their MPs to insist that local housing developments are delivered to ‘boost urban renewal; protect the countryside; and improve, rather than undermine, everyone’s quality of life.’

The campaign group welcomed the Government’s Sustainable Communities Plan to create new green belts to prevent urban sprawl and provide ?1 billion on affordable housing for key workers such as nurses and teachers.

However, CPRE’s national planning campaigner Julie Stainton, said: ‘There is a lot at stake, not least the tranquillity and quality of our countryside. The Plan misses a golden opportunity to deliver radical improvements in green construction.

‘We’re also worried that the need to ensure that new housing is affordable and meets real needs could be lost in the pressure to build, build, build.’