THE Friends of the Lake District have expressed concern about a relaxation in planning rules which  could see redundant barns in the countryside being turned into homes.

It follows concern about the idea - currently being consulted on by the Government - from  the chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Peter Charlesworth, chairman of the YDNPA, said it would cause “irreversible harm” to the beautiful scenery.

The Government is proposing to allow agricultural buildings like barns to be turned into homes without the need for planning permission.

Now the Kendal-based Friends charity says it has concerns about possible urbanisation in open country and the proliferation of second homes.

Jack Ellerby, policy officer, said: “Allowing potentially hundreds of barns in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales to change into market housing would be very bad news for the landscape and local communities.

"Imagine barns in the middle of fields, a long way from the farmstead having new access roads, electricity wires, water and sewerage pipes and the like put in, not sensible if we’re caring for the landscape.

"We also back the locally agreed policy that new houses must be lived in all year round and meet genuine local needs. If planning permission was no longer needed, conversions would likely go for second or holiday homes, and to people moving in for retirement.

"Barn conversions can give local families a chance of staying in the area where they have been brought up or work in, helping keep living, working communities in the national park.”

However, the Country Landowners' Association (CLA), said new homes were desperately needed to keep the countryside alive.

 CLA North Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “Without new 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.”

The CLA wants to see new homes for first time buyers and for existing owners looking to downsize.

It wants to see more retirement homes which will enable people to pass on farm holdings to a younger generation - and help clear the tenancy log-jam that is hampering the future of farming - and it wants to see changes to a tax regime which is seen as a fundamental block to new housing supply, particularly in the let sector.