By political editor Paul Francis
A move to scrap house-building targets for Kent and the South East could create a free-for-all for developers and risk the loss of valuable countryside, say campaigners.
The new government has confirmed it is to scrap the South East Plan, a blueprint that committed Kent to a target of having 140,000 new homes built between now and 2026 - the equivalent of 6,970 homes each year.
But it is not yet clear what will replace it and when new powers will be handed to local councils.
It is expected that powers to determine planning policy will be restored to councils and ministers have pledged to "rapidly abolish" what are known as Regional Spatial Strategies.
But the Kent branch of the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) said it was concerned that developers could seek to exploit the lack of firm planning policy to build where they liked.
Dr Hilary Newport of CPRE said: "It risks having the worst of all outcomes because it will be hard, in the absence of any plan, to redirect development to brown field sites. There could be a free-for-all. Abolishing the plan is clearly a popular move because regional government is not at all popular. But pulling the rug from under the planning system until there is something very secure to replace it risks creating a vacuum developers may exploit."
She added: "A strong and effective planning system provides for certainty and means that unscrupulous developers cannot exploit it."
Under the South East Plan, which was finally approved by the previous government last year, a third of new homes were to have been affordable and 60 per cent were to have been built on previously developed land.
Dr Newport said the house-building targets were "increasingly divorced from reality" as the economic downturn meant that the expected growth in the region's economy of three per cent a year was no longer realistic.
"It was claimed we would need the new homes as jobs were created but we are in a wholly different situation now."
Recent figures show that the economic dip has affected the rate of house-building, with 26,090 homes completed in the first quarter of 2010, compared to 48,580 in the first quarter of 2007.