Housing minister Margaret Beckett has given the go ahead for affordable housing to be built on greenbelt land.
Mrs Beckett has announced a range of measures to encourage local authorities to build more affordable homes in the countryside.
This includes making more “exception” sites on greenbelt or other restricted land available for affordable homes.
Councils in market towns will also be encouraged to develop sustainable new neighbourhoods rather than building “soulless” housing estates on the outskirts of town, with a £1 million competition to promote best practice.
Mrs Beckett said that the measures were essential to tackle the “unsustainable pressures” which were jeopardising the future of many rural communities.
She said: “All too often the high cost of homes and low wages are pricing young families out of their communities, with the average rural home costing up to 10 times the average salary in some rural areas.
“These subtle but important changes are the key to getting the balance right between protection and development in the countryside.
“This will give local communities the flexibility they need to take the right decisions on the individual issues they face.”
However Kate Gordon, senior planner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, warned thousands of homes could be built on greenfield sites, including in national parks, if local authorities take advantage of exception sites.
Instead she said councils should be rebuilding derelict buildings and developing brownfield sites.