Local authorities should consider allowing building projects on green belt land, a new government-commissioned report has said.
Economist Kate Barker says the pressures of a growing population and more single households mean developers must be given more opportunities to build the 120,000 new homes a year that the government believes it needs.
She notes that despite popular impressions, less than 13.5 per cent of England is actually developed at the moment. Areas of outstanding natural beauty make up 15 per cent, 7.6 per cent are national parks and 8.2 per cent are areas of special scientific interest.
Today's report calls on local authorities to review the land they currently class as green belt, particularly low-value agricultural land that is near towns and cities. Ms Barker says building here rather than on further away sites would cut the need for commuting.
She also calls on the government to scrap the requirement for developers to justify new building projects on the basis of local need.
Overall, Ms Barker calls for the whole planning system to be streamlined, arguing that the current system is "unnecessarily slow, unpredictable, expensive and bureaucratic" and costs the economy and communities too much.
To address delays in building major transport and energy infrastructure projects, she recommends as independent commission be created to assess big planning applications in line with a nationally agreed planning strategy.
And at a local level, the report says homeowners should be allowed to make minor renovations without getting planning permission. Where other people are involved, for example in building a conservatory, they would need to get their neighbours' approval.
"The planning system has a profound impact on our quality of life, but the current system will come under increasing pressures in the coming decade," Ms Barker said.
"Building on recent reforms, the recommendations in my report provide a comprehensive set of measures to ensure we have a planning system that is timely, transparent, flexible and responsive enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead."
Business groups have welcomed Ms Barker's proposals, in particular plans for a national planning body. CBI deputy director general John Cridland said: "With these big national decisions, somebody ultimately in parliament has got to make those tough choices."
However, shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman expressed concerns about the new "undemocratic" planning commission and said giving regional assemblies the power to "rip up" the green belt was "deeply unwelcome".
"If the government wanted to cut planning red tape, abolishing the whole tier of regional planning should be first step. But instead, I fear that Gordon Brown the arch-centraliser is consigning local democracy to the scrapheap," she said.
Liberal Democrat local government spokesman Andrew Stunnell welcomed many of Ms Barker's plans but warned that control over housing should not be given to the planning commission but be handled by local communities.
Local Government Association (LGA) chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart reiterated this point, saying: "The recent white paper on local government paved the way for greater cooperation between councils at a sub-regional level."
"This will only be of benefit if these partnerships are able to make important decisions about planning and development in their local area, free from central government interference."