As streamlined planning advice is unveiled, Labour says the move will lead to planning chaos while environmentalists warn of a building “free-for-all”.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) ensures councils’ policies must encourage brownfield sites, which have previously been developed, to be brought back into use.
It also allows councils to protect back gardens – “precious urban oases”, according to Planning Minister Greg Clark – from development.
Protection will also remain in place for playing fields.
Mr Clark came under fire for rushing through the reforms without giving MPs a vote and was told that the new policy could result in court action.
Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Hilary Benn said: “The country needs a planning system that will help produce the much-needed homes and jobs and transport connections of the future, but which also protects the green spaces and special places we value.”
But he told the Commons the NPPF “may end up doing neither”.
“Far from giving us certainty, there is likely to be delay as developments are held up by appeals and by the courts having to rule on a new and untested approach,” Mr Benn said.
Ahead of the report’s publication, Friends of the Earth told the BBC it was worried the plans would simply open the floodgates to development: “A strong planning system is vital for building the clean economy promised by government, but there are mounting concerns that ministers will unleash a building free-for-all that will infuriate local communities and devastate our countryside.”
Tory MP James Gray (North Wiltshire) welcomed the revamp but demanded equal protection for the 60 per cent of English countryside not classed as green belt or subject to other planning curbs.
Mr Clark said the revised NPPF included “a recognition of the intrinsic value of the countryside, reflecting its beauty, whether or not it is designated”.
He added: “It will have that protection.”
Mr Clark said he had allowed 12 months for existing plans to be adjusted to conform to the new framework. He also promised a Commons debate on the implementation of the planning policies after the Easter recess.
He said: “The purpose of planning is to help make the way we live our lives tomorrow better than it is today. This National Planning Policy Framework will help build the homes the next generation needs.
“It supports growth to allow employers to create the jobs our constituents need. It protects what we hold dear in our matchless countryside and in the fabric of our history.
“It does so by taking power away from remote bodies and putting it firmly into the hands of the people of England.”