FORTY-ONE Oxfordshire villages could be at risk from a development free-for-all if Government proposals for the Green Belt go ahead, it was claimed last night.

A hit-list of vulnerable villages in and around Oxford’s Green Belt is included in a survey into the potential impact of changes to the planning system.

Many of Oxfordshire’s most picturesque villages could be stripped of their Green Belt protection by the controversial planning reforms, claims the report from the Oxfordshire branch of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) and the Oxford Green Belt Network.

The claims the Government’s Draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) could leave Oxford’s Green Belt at the mercy of developers come as Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron vowed to protect the “magnificent countryside”.

Dr Helena Whall, campaigns manager for CPRE Oxfordshire, said: “The major worry centres on villages that are judged to be ‘washed over’ by the Green Belt, that is to say in every respect part of the Green Belt.

“The planning changes mean that they could be taken out of the Green Belt altogether.

“This is because the NPPF states that a village whose character does not contribute to the ‘openness’ of the Green Belt should be excluded from it.”

Dr Whall, who lives near Dorchester, added: “We believe all villages in the Green Belt are at risk, but of the 41 villages, some are obviously more at risk than others: for example, Cassington, because of large scale development by Agrivert nearby and Holton, because of Wheatley Park School and Oxford Brookes University.

“Some are at risk because they are closest to Oxford and have already experienced pressures, such as Horspath and Garsington.”

The survey says 34 Oxfordshire villages are most at risk. They are: Wytham, Farmoor, Eaton, Besselsleigh, Tubney, South Hinksey, Sunningwell, Culham, Clifton Hampden, Nuneham Courtenay, Berinsfield, Dorchester, Islip, Horspath, Cuddesdon, Garsington, Great Milton, Charlton-on-Otmoor, Oddington, Fencott, Murcott, Horton-cum-Studley, Woodeaton, Elsfield, Beckley, Stanton St John, Forest Hill, Holton, Waterstock, Waterperry, Toot Baldon, Marsh Baldon, Drayton St Leonard and Cassington.

Also vulnerable, it says, are a further seven villages judged to be “half in and half outside” the Green Belt. These are: Weston-on-the-Green, Bladon, Bletchingdon, Warborough, Little Milton, Stadhampton and Newington.

Thame resident Michael Tyce, who helped carry out the survey, said: “If the advice is followed, a lot more villages are likely to be excluded from the Green Belt, leaving the Oxford Green Belt looking like a piece of Gruyere cheese, full of holes.

“It will be easier for developers to get permission to develop in all these excluded villages.

“The emasculation of the Green Belt in this way will seriously undermine its whole purpose and make it hardly worth having a Green Belt at all.”

But Mr Cameron insisted the aim was to balance environmental and social benefits with economic ones.

In a letter to the National Trust, which also fiercely criticised the Government’s proposals, Mr Cameron wrote: “Poorly designed and poorly located development is in no one’s interest.

“As Prime Minister, as a rural constituency MP and as an individual, I have always believed that our beautiful British landscape is a national treasure. We should cherish and protect it.”

He said the reforms, which are currently subject to consultation, would maintain protections of the Green Belt. But he added businesses should be able to expand, with new developments essential to economic growth.

The reforms would see more than 1,000 pages of planning regulations replaced with just 52.