Campaign to Protect Rural England fears that Urban Development Corporations in countryside will lead to thousands of new homes.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) drive to curtail the government’s plans to push through plans to build thousands of new homes in Northamptonshire comes to a head this week as the case reaches the House of Lords.

The government is accused by the CPRE of “making a mockery” of the public consultation process, which, if plans go ahead, would be swept aside.

The government has proposed that an Urban Development Corporation (UDC) with special planning powers – enabling it to ensure that building takes place – be set up in west Northamptonshire.

The Countryside campaign group argues that UDCs, originally created under Margaret Thatcher, are intended to regenerate urban centres, not to deal with rural areas.

The CPRE says that by pre-empting any decision made by deputy prime minister John Prescott – which would not be made until after a public consultation – the government is giving power to an unelected UDC, and compromising democratic accountability.

CPRE national planning campaigner Julie Stainton said: “Without this challenge, the government could have set up an unelected body to drive through massive growth before the deputy prime minister announces his decision on whether – and what – growth is appropriate.”

The first witness will be Lord Rooker, the regeneration minister, who expected to argue that a UDC is needed because of the complex nature of the development.

The enquiry, chaired by crossbencher Lord Boston of Faversham, is expected to last up to three weeks. The proposed UDC cannot be set up unless the House of Lords approves the move when the enquiry is concluded.