Pickles and Osborne – return of the green belt bogeymen

Coalition expected to relaunch planning reforms on the day before the March Budget

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:00 ON Fri 2 Mar 2012

ERIC PICKLES, the Communities Secretary, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, are set to renew their "most hated men in Britain" status with the green wellie brigade by going ahead with changes to planning rules to allow more house building in rural Britain.

Fatty Pickles is usually a hero of the right because of his no-nonsense approach to local government but he has been the target of The Daily Telegraph's 'hands off our countryside campaign' launched last year against the planning changes. And he's had the National Trust up in arms because they don't believe that green belt sites won't be affected.

In short, Pickles's enemies believe the proposed changes represent the biggest threat to the English countryside since the fall of France in 1940 under the Panzers of Hitler's Third Reich.

Osborne - half of the posh Osborne and Little interior decorating dynasty - may have to declare his interest in wanting to flog more expensive up-market wallpaper and pots of paint. He retains a 15 per cent stake in the family firm through a trust.

The Chancellor is driving the reforms because he fears the collapse in house building is wrecking hopes of economic growth. The stamp duty holiday for first time buyers is due to end on 24 March unless it is extended in his Budget the day before. Signs of green shoots in the housing market are distorted by the three per cent growth in house prices inside the M25, not reflected beyond greater London except in a few privileged pockets of Britain.

Osborne asked Pickles at the weekly Cabinet meeting what had happened to the planning reforms and Pickles assured him they will be brought forward within the next few weeks. It is likely to coincide with the Budget on 23 March.

The Torygraph believes that under the coalition's proposals, "a presumption in favour of sustainable development" will replace the strict limits on building in rural areas that have been in place since the 1940s.

Opponents believe large swathes of unprotected rural England will be opened up to building projects after ministers told towns and villages that they had a "responsibility" to accept new developments.

Following a public outcry there has been a consultation period - but the campaigners don't expect any significant changes. Get ready with the effigies of Little and Large. ·