FURIOUS environmental campaigners have criticised the Government’s claim that Hampshire’s green spaces are safe from developers.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles dismissed fears of an “urban sprawl” under controversial planning reforms.

But his stance provoked anger from the leader of the Save Barton Farm Group, just days after Mr Pickles made the decision that clears the way for 2,000 homes to be built on the 200-acre green space near Winchester.

Gavin Blackman, chairman of the Save Barton Farm Group, said yesterday: “He either has not read the letter he signed last week or he is being very economical with the truth. He is contradicting himself with what he is saying and what he is doing. It is very hypocritical. He should practise what he preaches and not try to have it both ways.”

The Hampshire branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has said it is “horrified” at the proposed relaxation of planning rules, claiming cherished green spaces are under threat.

Mr Pickles told the Conservative Party conference: “Just as we want to change things, we also want to protect the good things – especially the environment.

“So we’ve introduced a new protection for valuable green spaces and have given councils new powers to stop unwanted garden grabbing.

“Now, there’s been a lot of press speculation in recent weeks on the green belt. Protecting the character of the countryside is stamped deep into the heart of Conservatism. And I want to be absolutely clear – the green belt plays a vital role in stopping urban sprawl – and we will protect it.”

Mr Pickles also pledged “very tough love” for vulnerable families who are dependent on the welfare state.

Cash has been set aside for trouble-shooters to work with more than 2,000 households across Hampshire and Southampton.

Mr Pickles said: “It’s not acceptable for parents to blow their benefits on booze or drugs.

“Or allow their kids to skip school and drift into crime. So we will work with families to provide the guidance and supervision that kids need.”