Developers should be given incentives to build thousands of homes in small villages and on land with unproductive soil near Hastings and Havelock North.
That is the opinion of advocacy group Save Our Plains, who are calling for land outside Havelock North and Flaxmere to be extensively developed and the coastal village of Te Awanga to be turned into a centre with up to 5000 homes.
The group - which includes leading fruit growers in Hawke's Bay - says the push is all about protecting the fertile soil of the Heretaunga Plains by diverting developers elsewhere.
The Heretaunga Plains boasts some of the richest soil in the country for growing food and crops but the land is becoming increasingly valuable to developers wanting to build homes around Napier and Hastings.
Save Our Plains says developers should be offered incentives to build on land in other areas with unproductive soil such as those listed above or in the hills.
However, a leading advocate for the coastal region around Te Awanga has hit back at the idea as "silly" and says there are better ways to protect the plains.
Save Our Plains spokesman Richard Gaddum said there had been a "cancerous creep" of urban development across the plains in recent years around Napier, Hastings and Havelock North.
"It is a slow, cancerous creep and people don't even realise it is happening," he said.
"There are lots of possibilities for urban and industrial expansion in Hawke's Bay without covering fertile soils with a one-way crop of asphalt and concrete."
He said there were multiple locations around the region with unproductive land which could be targeted for development, such as the sites near Flaxmere, Havelock North and Te Awanga.
"There is huge opportunity in Te Awanga and the surrounding hills.
"People want to live by the sea, it is a desirable place to live.
"We would love to see that area expanded."
He said it had capacity for 4000 or 5000 homes in the coastal town and about 10,000 people.
Gaddum called on Hastings District Council to offer incentives to developers including removing certain council fees or streamlining rezoning laws for targeted areas.
He also said councils should "ring fence" and ban development on large areas of the plains.
Gaddum praised an announcement made on Friday that a new suburb of at least 550 homes would be built on hills behind Mission Estate Winery, on the outskirts of Napier, away from the plains.
Cape Coast resident and Walking on Water spokesman Keith Newman said an idea to build thousands of homes in Te Awanga was totally out of character for the area.
"I think it is a silly idea," he said.
"Yes, there are areas that could be developed into residential areas, perhaps even further back in the hills, but not down on the low lands and coast."
He said infrastructure issues and traffic issues would be of huge concern and would not cope. He said there were also climate change issues to consider for building near the coast.
Hastings District Council group manager planning and regulatory services John O'Shaughnessy said protecting the soil and providing housing were both priorities for the council.
"Protecting our fertile plains soil is a priority for our council, alongside responding to the increasing pressure for more housing.
"To guide this, we are following the Heretaunga Plains Urban Development plan (HPUDs), which was consulted on with the community," he said.
"Outside of this, landowners and others will have the opportunity to put other proposals forward for consideration as future growth areas under the forthcoming spatial planning process, set to commence early next year."
Save Our Plains includes members Gaddum, John Bostock (from Bostock NZ), Paul Paynter (from Yummy Fruits), and Michael Donnelly.