A NATIONAL park authority leader has warned that a relaxation of planning rules will cause “irreversible harm” to the protected countryside.

Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Peter Charlesworth said the landscape of the park will be dealt a severe blow if changes to planning laws are introduced.

The Government is proposing to allow agricultural buildings like barns to be turned into homes without the need for planning permission – and this would apply to any barn anywhere in the National Park.

But North Yorkshire County Councillor and National Park Authority member John Blackie said he would welcome the move which would enable some of the barns to be converted into homes for local people.

Mr Charlesworth said the move would cause “irreversible harm” to the beautiful scenery of the National Park and added: “This National Park contains more barns than any other – an estimated 6,000.

“The Government proposals to relax the restrictions will have potentially disastrous consequences here.

“The Government’s proposal would totally undermine local efforts to provide more affordable housing for local people. They would open up a flood of unconstrained, open-market housing. All the evidence of the last 10 years suggests that this will just lead to more second homes and more dream homes for retired people.”

Coun Blackie argued that many of the barns were owned by local farming families and the new rules would allow younger generations of the family to stay in the Dales - creating more places in primary schools and helping retain services.

“This will provide affordable housing opportunities for people in the Dales," he said.

“There is also the opportunity for roadside barns to become small businesses and cafes – it would not be the end of the world.”