CAMPAIGNERS are calling for more protection of green belt land after the controversial development earmarked for Hulton Park was approved by planning bosses at Bolton Council.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the threat of houses being planned and given the go-ahead on the green belt had increased nationally since 2012 when new planning rules were brought in.

The Bolton News:

CAMPAIGN: Sandra Hesketh and Julia Hulton are stepping up the fight to save historic park

It added that the number of major planning bids being approved on greenfield sites in the green belt — designed to protect open countryside around towns and cities and prevent urban sprawl — has risen from 15 to 27 a year since 2012.

The campaign group cites the building of more than a 1,000 homes and Ryder Cup golf course on the historic Hulton Park Estate as an example.

HEART — Hulton Estate Area Residents Together — are continuing to fight to have the plans, which were narrowly passed by Bolton Council, overturned.

CPRE also pointed to large developments which have been approved on green belt land recently, including Effingham, near Guildford, Surrey, where almost 300 homes have been approved by Housing Secretary Sajid Javid on appeal.

There are concerns that, of the homes planned for the green belt, only a small proportion are "affordable", while many are more expensive "executive homes" which are profitable for developers.

Chairman of Heart, Cllr David Chadwick, said he was "fully supportive" of the campaign and criticised the previous coalition government for changing planning laws which no longer applied the "sequential test" of brownfield land to be considered first.

"The government calls on local authorities to go to developers and ask where they want to build, which is frankly stupid" he said, "the CPRE do excellent work and am very fully supportive of their action. I have spent 20 years fighting developments on green belt land in Westhoughton."

Cllr Chadwick added the government should do more to encourage developers to build on brownfield sites near to town centre to revitalise the economy.

CPRE's Paul Miner, head of strategic plans and devolution, said: "It's completely unacceptable that developments of this scale are being approved on green belt land without consideration of brownfield alternatives.

"Despite its protected status, last year we saw almost half a million houses planned on green belt — 54 per cent more than 2016.

"And only 16 per cent of these were classed as 'affordable'."

The government is considering changes to the national planning policy framework and CPRE says it welcomes moves to ensure councils show they have considered brownfield sites and other options before altering green belt boundaries.

Mr Miner said: "Given that the proposed changes to planning rules, currently out for consultation, focus on meeting market demand, it is urgent that the Secretary of State makes clear that economic considerations do not, in and of themselves, mean we should build on Green Belt."

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Building the homes our country needs does not mean ruining our countryside.

"We are reinforcing green belt safeguards through our planning reforms. Councils will need to exhaust all opportunities for development, including brownfield land and higher densities, before allowing any development on the green belt."