The research studied 27 councils in rural areas and found that 16 had their adopted local plans, that were compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), challenged by developers.
Under the NPPF, councils must demonstrate that they have five years’ worth of developable sites to meet their local housing need, plus a 5 per cent "buffer".
Otherwise, a "presumption in favour of development" comes into force and councils’ local plan policies can be challenged at appeal by developers.
Of the 16 local authorities whose local plans were challenged, this sometimes led to developers getting consent to build new estates on greenfield sites that were never allocated for housing, according to the study.
The trust’s report found that eight of the 16 authorities faced problems after house-building rates fell dramatically during the recession, which meant their land supply was "wrongly assumed" to be inadequate.
In a statement, the trust called for the government to make sure that the local plan is "sovereign", and, where plans are in place, to provide "greater certainty about where development should and should not go".
Ingrid Samuel, the trust’s historic environment director, said: "This new evidence shows that the government’s plan-led system is too open to challenge from streetwise developers.
"Sadly, the NPPF is allowing developers to ignore the local communities it said would be at the very heart of its new approach.
Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: "There remains strong protection of the countryside and green belt.
"The best way for councils to send speculative developers packing is to have an up to date local plan."