John Prescott has been accused of launching an " assault on the green belt" after he unveiled planning reforms designed to find land for 1.1 million new homes.
Meriden MP Caroline Spelman (Con) led opposition to the proposals, accusing the Government of concreting over 2,500 acres of green-belt every year.
But Ministers said their changes to planning laws, announced yesterday, would actually protect the green-belt.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of planning, said it was essential to find room for new homes so that people in lower incomes could afford to buy.
He said: "Today's proposals will mean the planning system can respond faster to the housing market and local needs, so that more homes can be built where they're needed."
The announcement follows a warning from conservationists that the West Midlands green belt is under attack as never before.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said developments like the M6 Toll, potential expansion at Birmingham and Coventry airports, the proposed M6 Expressway and the possible M6 widening scheme in Staffordshire, were all potential threats in a report earlier this year.
Under the proposed changes, councils will be expected to draw up 15-year regional plans, which include new housing developments.
The plans will be reviewed when there are changes in housing market conditions. In other words, councils will have to release more land if prices rise. But Ministers said they would continue to focus on brownfield sites for development.
The Secretary of State will gain the power to intervene and call a public inquiry in some green belt planning applications. And each region will be set a formal target to maintain or increase the area of designated green-belt.
The measures are a response to the Barker Housing Review, published in March 2004.
It warned that planning was seen as a key constraint on the delivery of housing.
Mr Prescott said: "For decades, this country has built too few homes, with the result that too many people on moderate incomes can't afford a home."
But Mrs Spelman called for the Government to renovate the thousands of empty homes instead.
She said: "Is it any wonder we are in the midst of a housing crisis when John Prescott is burying the countryside in concrete with one hand and swinging a wrecking ball at existing homes with the other?"
The reforms were backed by the CBI's Michael Roberts, who said: "The Government obviously realises that failing to provide enough homes for people who want and need to live and work in this country has serious implications for Britain."
But Henry Oliver, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the announcement was "very worrying indeed".
Friends of the Earth warned that the planning proposals would put private sector interests at the heart of the English planning system.
The environmental group said the changes would include recommendations that price mechanisms will drive where new homes are built so there will be a vast expansion of housing in areas of high demand and continued decline and abandonment in northern communities.
They would also have a potentially disastrous impact on the environment in areas such as the South-east where water resources are already scarce.