COMMUNITIES Secretary Ruth Kelly has hit back at claims that she is a "nimby".

The Bolton West MP has been branded a hypocrite over her threat to use her new role to root out opposition to new housing from disgruntled neighbours on "not in my backyard" grounds.

Opponents claim the aim is at odds with her record in her own constituency, where she has joined opposition to home-building plans at least seven times since Labour came to power in 1997.

But Ms Kelly defended her actions, saying Bolton Council has already met its housing development targets, while homes were desperately needed in other parts of the country.

The former Education Secretary was appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the department formerly run by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in a wide-reaching government reshuffle on Friday.

She said: "The case for building more homes is clear, and I will stand up for the right mix of social, affordable and private homes in Bolton West, as I will for the rest of the country. More houses have been built in Bolton West in recent years than in the other Bolton constituencies, and Bolton Council has met its housing development targets. But across England, we have a situation where house-building is not keeping pace with our ageing, growing population.

"There are more than 200,000 new households a year, but only 160,000 new homes were built last year.

"It is essential that new building developments should provide homes that are of good quality and well designed, but also take into account our commitment to enhancing the environment."

Ms Kelly has faced a barrage of criticism since her appointment to the new role, which includes responsibility for women, equality, race and faith.

Gay rights groups have questioned whether her religious beliefs and membership of the conservative Opus Dei group will affect her commitment to gay rights.

Following her appointment, Ms Kelly said she wanted to end the culture of householders being "protective of their own space" and raising objections to social housing near their homes.

She also wants a change in planning law to smooth the way for new developments.

In yesterday's Bolton Evening News, Bolton Conservative councillor John Walsh branded Ms Kelly a hypocrite for saying she would make the building of social and affordable homes a priority and would get tough with residents who opposed such plans.

He pointed to a number of developments she had opposed since becoming an MP in 1997.

In November, 2004, Ms Kelly backed constituents opposing new homes at a former aerospace plant at Leigh Road, Westhoughton.

In July, 2003, residents applauded her help in the "Battle of Markland Hill", which ended when planning inspectors rejected proposals for a five-storey block of flats and two houses in a conservation area.

In April, 2004, she supported residents opposing plans for 30 new flats at the same site. The scheme was rejected on grounds that it would have been over-development.

In February, 2003, Ms Kelly helped to fight a plan to build homes on a hospital site in Horwich.

In April, 2000, she praised campaigners after developers planning a 600-home estate at Bowlands Hey, Westhoughton, pulled out of a public inquiry.

In June, 1999, Ms Kelly labelled the abandonment of a 1,100-home estate in Westhoughton "a victory for people power".

In March, 1998, she objected to plans to sell off land earmarked for car parking at Lostock railway station.

Ms Kelly also spoke against plans for an Islamic college on green-belt land in Westhoughton, which were rejected in March last year.