Villagers in Solihull battling to save a "beautiful leafy lane" from being turned into a housing estate have taken their fight to the top by launching a Downing Street e-petition.

More than 200 people have already put their names to the fight to protect Elmdon Lane, in Marston Green, where builders want to construct 72 flats in three-storey apartment blocks on the back gardens of 16 Edwardian homes.

The protest is the latest in a line of campaigns against inappropriate house building in suburbia following a Government decision to classify back gardens as previously developed brownfield land - giving local councils little opportunity to refuse planning applications.

The proposal, if approved by Solihull Council, would almost double the number of homes in Marston Green, which lies on the edge of Birmingham International Airport.

Petition organiser Penny Parkes, who lives in Elmdon Lane, said the application by the Sandstone Group of developers would ruin the beauty of an archetypal English country lane.

She believes the owner of one house in the lane had been offered #1 million by the developers for the property and garden in order to construct an access road for the new estate.

Mrs Parkes added: "This is about trying to keep what we have and not allowing something that is beautiful to be destroyed.

"No one is saying that people don't need affordable housing, but the developers stand to make millions. They will make their profits and then go away to spoil another area."

She said the site, close to the BIA main runway, was unsuitable for new housing.

"These people will be right on the airport boundary and I would have thought security issues should be taken into consideration. What kind of life will they have if their homes are right on the edge of the airport?" Mrs Parkes added.

A mission statement by the Marston Green Against Overdevelopment Residents' Committee pledges to oppose high density housing, which would place further pressure on the village's already stretched resources, and to fight to protect the village way of life.

The Downing Street website petition urges the Government "not to let the council destroy our way of life, our beautiful leafy lane, our English style", adding "we do not want to become just another sprawling concrete suburb".

With more than 200 signatures already recorded, Ministers are now required to reply to the petitioners' concerns. The villagers are being supported by local MP Caroline Spelman, who hopes to launch a Private Member's Bill in the Commons next month opposing the classification of gardens as brownfield sites.

Mrs Spelman (Con Meriden) said gardens of large Edwardian homes were "not what you or I would understand as brownfield land".

It was a "no brainer" for developers faced with the chance of building on a contaminated former factory site or on back gardens in a village where new homes would have a far higher value. The flats proposed in Marston Green would not be sold for less than #200,000 each and would do nothing to provide affordable housing for people in need, Mrs Spelman added.

Fourteen properties have been sold in Elmdon Lane since January 2006, according to the website Email4Property, with prices ranging from #240,000 for a terrace to #335,000 for a detached house. More than 80 per cent of all new homes in England since Labour came to power in 1997 have been built on gardens, Mrs Spelman said.

More than half of new-build in Solihull has been on gardens. She added: "This particular development proposed in Marston Green is very dense and the infrastructure won't be able to cope. It's not that I don't think we need homes, but we have got to have affordable housing. The luxury flats in these apartment blocks could not be described as affordable."

Council leaders from across the West Midlands will meet on September 24 to discuss Government proposals for more than 400,000 new homes to be built in the region by 2026. As many as 100,000 may be built in rural or suburban locations with local authorities seemingly powerless to prevent back garden development.