The West Midlands is on collision course with the Government after new research showed plans for a massive increase in house building could swallow up 3,000 acres of the region's green belt.

The countryside surrounding Birmingham, Worcester, Coventry, Lichfield, Stafford, Telford, Rugby and Warwick will be at the greatest risk of development if Ministers succeed in forcing local authorities to build 380,000 new homes by 2026.

Consultants appointed by the West Midlands Regional Assembly are warning that space for more than 50,000 new homes may have to be found in rural areas where development is presently not permitted.

If the Government succeeds in pushing through the biggest house building programme since the 1950s, the result would be unsustainable development, more migration from cities to the countryside and more traffic congestion in major towns, reports to the WMRA warn.

And even if all of the new homes met energy efficiency standards, the result would still be a 3.1 per cent increase in CO2 emissions across the region, it is claimed.

The potential for intrusion into the countryside is at its greatest since construction of the M6 Toll, which was built entirely on green belt land, and is far in excess of the 300 acres of green belt lost to housing since 1997.

However, the possible loss of a further 3,000 acres is equivalent to less than one per cent of the 501,000 acres of green belt surrounding Birmingham and Coventry.

The West Midlands Regional Planning Partnership is to hold a crucial meeting on Monday, where members will devise a preferred option for housing development.

The body is expected to propose 362,600 new homes by 2026 - 19,000 fewer than Ministers want, but 62,000 more than the councils were proposing in January.

Several research documents prepared for the WMRPP contain severe criticism of Government housing policy.

For every ten new houses built in the conurbations, 12 houses would be built elsewhere in the region.

The research pours cold water on Government claims that increasing the supply of housing will bring down prices, adding that there is no evidence to suggest that increasing current build rates by 25 per cent would have any significant impact on affordability.

Areas said to be at particular risk of incursion into the green belt include:

* Coventry, where almost 600 acres of "non urban land" would be required for development;

* Lichfield, where 250 acres of green belt may be needed;

* Redditch, where 4,000 houses covering 220 acres of green belt are proposed.

The reports point out that many of the towns identified as significant development areas already suffer from severe traffic congestion. Investment in new infrastructure would be required to accommodate additional housing.

Problem areas identified include:

* Worcester - difficulties involve poor road and rail links across the River Severn;

* Telford - problems with rail connections to Birmingham and the need for more M54 distributor junctions;

* Shrewsbury - limited number of crossing points over the River Severn;

* Warwick and Leamington - general traffic congestion in urban areas.

Rex Roberts, chairman of the Regional Planning Partnership, said the Government expected all English regions to substantially increase the number of new houses built.