Expansion at Birmingham airport is on the list of concerns compiled by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Photograph: Alamy
Green belt land may be under threat from plans to build 81,000 new homes, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Proposals to build houses, roads, industrial parks, mines and airport expansions, which are either out for consultation, have been submitted for planning permission or have already been approved, would cover protected land equivalent to a new town larger than Slough, the CPRE claims.
Plans include the expansion of Birmingham airport, proposals for freight terminals near St Albans, Luton and St Helens, an opencast coal mine at Broxtowe, in Nottinghamshire, and a golf course at Leatherhead, Surrey.
The government has committed to protecting from development the green belt, which makes up 12% of English land, but reform of the planning system this year has prompted concerns that protection for the wider countryside would be weakened. Campaigners say the government must honour its pledge to safeguard the green belt.
Under the new planning policy, local authorities are required to allocate more than five years' worth of building land for new housing, and CPRE has pointed out that councils are under pressure to allow building in the green belt to meet the target. There are also fears that planning laws could be relaxed to boost economic growth.
The CPRE warned ministers against "destroying the countryside" in a construction boom aimed at kickstarting the economy, and said that there was enough previously used, or brownfield, land available for 1.5m new homes.
Paul Miner, senior planning officer for the campaign group, said: "In times of economic slowdown, politicians can sometimes be tempted by the false promise of an easy construction boom. But destroying the countryside is not the path to lasting economic prosperity."
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a 'green lung' around towns and cities. The coalition agreement commits the government to safeguarding green belt and other environmental designations, which they have been in the new national planning policy framework."