A housing free-for-all on the Green Belt is set to be abandoned as ministers come under pressure from their own constituents.
At least half the Cabinet are already facing controversy over plans to allow green fields to be bulldozed for housing.
Those affected include Theresa May, Chancellor Philip Hammond, and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who has vowed publicly to ‘fight to protect the Green Belt from inappropriate development’.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid was reported last year to be considering easing the rules that allow councils to build on Green Belt land provided they designate equivalent areas of land for protection.
But Tory sources insist his remarks were over-interpreted and believe the idea will be quietly shelved when a White Paper on housing is published later this month.
One senior Tory said: ‘There will be a riot if they mess about with the Green Belt. We made a promise to protect it, and there are plenty of MPs – including some in the Cabinet – who are going to make sure we stick to it.’ At least ten Cabinet ministers are facing controversy over proposed Green Belt developments in their constituencies, including Mr Javid, who lodged a formal objection to plans for 2,800 homes in his Bromsgrove constituency in the West Midlands last year before taking up his current role.
In the Prime Minister’s Maidenhead constituency, campaigners are fighting plans to build 3,000 new homes on Green Belt land. Sir Michael has said publicly that he will oppose plans to turn over large swathes of countryside for housing in his Sevenoaks constituency in Kent.
The top-level opposition is expected to head off any major watering-down of protection for green fields in the new proposals.
The Prime Minister is also said to be mindful of the Tories’ 2015 manifesto pledge, which said: ‘We will protect the Green Belt.’ Ministers are instead expected to focus on increasing development on brownfield sites and undesignated greenfield sites as they set out new proposals to hit the target of building one million new homes by 2020.
Sources close to Mr Javid insist he is committed to protecting the Green Belt, with development only permitted in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
But former chief whip Andrew Mitchell said the Communities Secretary ‘cannot be trusted’ on the issue after he gave approval for 6,000 new homes on countryside in Mr Mitchell’s Sutton Coldfield constituency in the Midlands.
Campaigners still fear that the push for housing will inevitably lead to more building on the Green Belt unless ministers act to strengthen existing protections.