CONTROVERSIAL planning reforms will not spell the end for Hampshire’s “virgin green belt”, Nick Clegg has promised.

Countryside campaigners say they are “filled with anxiety” at the latest moves to relax laws to try and push through development.

But the Deputy Prime Minister told the Daily Echo reform was needed to get young people on the property ladder.

He said: “Developers have no financial incentive to put a spade in the ground, and this denies young people the opportunity to buy a home they can call their own.”

Ministers are looking at ways to make it easier for projects to get off the ground, including by relaxing rules requiring developers to target brownfield land first, and to provide a minimum number of affordable homes in each scheme.

The Hampshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has spoken out against the changes, while council chiefs have also raised concerns.

But Mr Clegg added: “I really think that the fears that some councils have got that either the Government is pointing the finger at them, or that we are trying to get lots of homes built on virgin green belt land, neither of those things are true. All we are trying to do is kick start developments where permission has been granted.”

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, he also held out the possibility of a wealth of new powers being handed to Southampton City Council leaders. The Government has already struck eight “city deals” with the largest cities across the country, giving councils direct access to millions of powers of funding and new powers over transport and housing.

He confirmed: “We are going to launch a second wave, and invite places up and down the country to put forward city style bids just as they did in the first wave.”

The Lib Dem leader branded criticism by MPs of his Regional Growth Fund – set up to replace the South East Development Agency – a “shameless piece of political posturing”, insisting it would create thousands of jobs.

Hampshire business bosses have also criticised the scheme, saying it favours the north.

He added there was absolutely no way his party would consider supporting the controversial changes to constituency boundaries. Radical changes had been proposed in some areas, with the Romsey and Southampton constituency set to disappear. But the Lib Dems have decided to block the changes as revenge for the Conservatives destroying their Lords reform hopes.