A PROPOSAL to make it far easier to convert farm buildings into homes or for business use has been slammed by a national park boss.

The stunning landscape of the Yorkshire Dales National Park would be dealt a severe blow if changes to planning laws are introduced, park authority chairman Peter Charlesworth claimed.

The Government’s proposal to allow agricultural buildings like barns to be turned into homes without the need for full planning permission would apply to any barn anywhere in the national park, said Mr Charlesworth.

And that would cause ‘irreversible harm’ to the beautiful scenery, as well as adversely affecting local communities.

“This national park contains more barns than any other,” he said.

“The Government proposals to relax the restrictions will have potentially disastrous consequences here – probably more than in any other area of England.

“About 4,000 of the barns in the national park are located away from farmsteads, out among fields in the open countryside. Valleys full of fields dotted with these stone field barns could be transformed into a semi-urban environment with roads and overhead power and phone lines. You would have gardens, cars, washing lines, greenhouses and everything else that goes with a home springing up in some of the most stunning countryside in England.

“There would be major disruption of the landscape to install infrastructure like sewer and water pipes – and the authority would be powerless to control it or to prevent it from happening.”

However, the proposal has been welcomed by organisations such as Rural Futures and the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA).

John Welbank, rural planning specialist from Rural Futures, said: “These new rights finally open up the planning system for local businesses and communities to use existing buildings for viable economic purposes. It also has the added benefit of ensuring these historic buildings have an economically viable use that will ensure continued maintenance into the future.”

CLA North regional director Dorothy Fairburn said: “New homes are urgently needed to keep communities in the countryside alive. Without this housing, we will lose the young people and services needed to keep rural areas economically viable.

“More retirement homes are also needed in rural areas so older people can pass on farm holdings to the next generation.”