National Trust chairman Sir William Proby has announced that the Trust may buy land to protect the countryside from extreme housing development.

Three million new homes will be built by 2020, according to the government, with 60 per cent of new homes going on brownfield sites. The National Trust has demanded that figure be increased to 80 per cent.

In its AGM, Sir William told members: ‘You only have to look around and see the pace at which our precious countryside is being gobbled up to see that this now has to be a top priority.

‘As our population grows relentlessly, our green spaces become a more finite and precious resource. Armed with the National Trust Act and a great tradition . . . we must give serious consideration to what we can do to help this situation.’

Insisting that ‘we are not against progress’, Sir William went on to say how protection of the green belt ‘requires more than a conventional defence.’

10,000 acres were at risk from the plans, he claimed. The National Trust may now move its focus from preserving stately homes to buying land.

It recently bought Divis and Black Mountain, an area around Belfast, from the Ministry of Defence, as well as Wicken Fen nature reserve between Cambridge and Ely.

The National Trust: the essential facts:

– Annual income of approximately £350m, from members, legacies, donations, visits and commercial activities.

– The total bill for repairs currently stands at £200m.

– The trust now owns 617,500 acres, making it Britain’s biggest private landowner.

– It owns 1.5% of the land of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own National Trust.

– The trust is also fighting campaigns to protect areas it owns such as Hatfield Forest, which is threatened by the proposed expansion of Stansted airport, and Osterley Park in west London, which would be endangered by a possible third runway at Heathrow.

– The National Trust has 3.5m members and 43,000 volunteers. Each year, more than 12m visitors tour its historic houses.

The National Trust will now consult its 3.5 million members over the plans to save green belt land.

To comment on this article, use the comment box below, or email us at clonews@ipcmedia.com