AN AREA of countryside bigger than Birmingham could be lost if one million homes planned between Oxford and Cambridge are built, a pressure group has claimed.

The Government wants to build the new homes to accommodate new residents in the ‘Oxford-Cambridge arc’ before 2050 to boost economic growth.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the move could ‘change the face of England’s countryside forever’ – when no one has been able to object at the ballot box.

The National Infrastructure Commission, an advisory body to the Government, has already said the one million homes should be built by the middle of the century. That would be supplemented with other improvements, including the controversial Oxford-Cambridge expressway.

Paul Miner, CPRE’s head of strategic plans and devolution said: “If given the green light, this development will change the face of England’s countryside forever. Yet no formal assessment of the environmental impact it will have has taken place. Whilst there will be a need for genuine affordable housing to meet local need in the area, the scale of these proposals is completely unacceptable.”

The Chancellor Philip Hammond will reveal his Budget next week – with it understood some funds could be channelled to boost development in the middle of the arc, especially around Milton Keynes.

Last year, Mr Hammond announced the £215m Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal, which was officially agreed by all of the county’s councils in March.

Mr Miner said ‘growth at all costs’ is currently being pursued by the Government and that other improvements should be undertaken to increase the use and quality of public transport networks, like East West Rail.

He said: “There has been no formal public consultation around developing the arc. The lack of debate equates to a major, and troubling, democratic deficit at the heart of the proposals.

“Rather than taking a ‘growth at all costs’ approach, it is imperative that a Strategic Environmental Assessment is conducted.

“The assessment must look at the impacts of both the proposed housing and transport development on the countryside, people’s health and well-being, and climate change in a holistic manner.

“Critically, we need much stronger commitments to protecting and improving the unique and precious rural landscapes in the arc.”

In Oxfordshire, about 94,000 of the 100,000 new homes in the Housing and Growth Deal have already got councils’ outline agreement.

In June, Sadie Morgan, one of the NIC’s eight commissioners, said she thought homes should be built with or without councils’ agreement.

She told a conference in Milton Keynes: “We are optimistic that the Government and local authorities can reach agreement on the scale and location of these settlements.

“However, if agreement cannot ultimately be reached then the secretary of state [for housing] should be prepared to designate the new settlements in the national interest.”