More than 1,500 square miles of open countryside - over twice the area covered by Greater London - needs to be built on to solve the housing crisis.
The suggestion has come from planning minister Nick Boles who said owning a decent home was a "moral right".
People had to realise good developments could be as attractive as open countryside, he added.
His comments, in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight, will infuriate campaigners fighting government efforts to loosen planning laws.
Mr Boles said: "We're going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have got to accept we need to build more on some open land.
"In the UK and England at the moment we've got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we'll have solved a housing problem."
He insisted everyone had "the right to live somewhere that is not just affordable but that is beautiful and has some green space nearby".
That was "a basic moral right, like healthcare and education", he said.
Addressing so-called "nimbys", Mr Boles said: "It's my job to make the arguments to these people that if they carry on writing letters their kids are never going to get a place with a garden to bring up their grandkids.
"I accept we haven't been able to persuade them. I think it would be easier if we could persuade them that the new development would be beautiful...
"The built environment can be more beautiful than nature and we shouldn't obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open - sometimes buildings are better."
Mr Boles said he did not want "lazy" builders to build "pig ugly" houses, and urged them to work with local communities.
"Land is expensive but to some extent (developers) are just lazy," he said.
"They didn't talk to local people or get involved enough. But also it's just bloody expensive to build because land is expensive."
The intervention came after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg complained last week that the country had been "under-building for decades".
Unveiling a push for a swathe of new "garden cities" across England, he said: "Hard realities can no longer be ignored. There's only one way out of this housing crisis: we have to build our way out."