THOUSANDS of people have backed a campaign to create a green belt to protect Hampshire countryside at risk of development.

More than 9,000 people have already backed the campaign, amid fears Southampton, Portsmouth and Winchester could eventually merge.

It has been started by the Hampshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to prevent the creation of what they claim would be a Solent “super city” through establishing a green belt.

The campaign is calling for action to be taken by Fareham Borough Council, Test Valley Borough Council, Winchester City Council and Eastleigh Borough Council to save green spaces.

Across Hampshire, more than 102,000 homes need to be built by 2036, according to the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire.

In the petition, CPRE said: “The leaders of Eastleigh, Fareham, Test Valley and Winchester councils preside over our most vulnerable countryside.”

Dee Haas, chair of CPRE Hampshire, said: “Hampshire is facing many challenges and there are huge pressures to grow our economy and build houses. Unplanned and uncoordinated sprawl is not an acceptable way ahead.”

Charlee Bennett, chief executive of CPRE Hampshire, added: “There’s no doubt South Hampshire is under huge pressure and our local authorities have a serious job on their hands."

In response, councillor Caroline Horrill, leader of Winchester City Council, said: “We strongly support the need for effective strategic planning and have produced an approved local plan which has been endorsed by the planning inspectorate.”

Councillor Keith House, leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, said: “We and other south Hampshire councils already have clear policies in support of a south Hampshire greenbelt."

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, said: “I welcome CPRE’s support of my campaign to allow us to designate a green belt."