Campaigners battling to protect the most important rural landscapes in national parks fear relaxing planning restrictions could allow barns to be converted without permission, leading to a free for all which would spoil prized open spaces.

The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks are renowned for their field barns and wide open spaces.

The Campaign for National Parks has joined other high profile rural protection groups calling on the government to halt potential changes, saying relaxing the current rules could open the floodgates for destructive developments.

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The moves are part of a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities consultation to try and improve housing supply.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Fears over development of barns in National Parks

The campaign group calls for a halt to the plans in a letter to Levelling up Minister Michael Gove.

It says: "If these changes go ahead, they will lead to a free-for-all on the development of new, isolated residential units in unsustainable locations without the supporting infrastructure and could add significant pressures in terms of water pollution and traffic. Where once there was a field barn standing isolated in a hay meadow, there will be a pocket of suburbia, and this will be repeated throughout the landscape, creating sprawl and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of nature, open space and tranquillity.

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“Allowing this to go ahead will also completely undermine the Government’s aim that Protected Landscapes should play an important role in recovering nature and contributing towards meeting the international commitment to protect 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030.

"We have been working hard to secure amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which would deliver key recommendations.

"Your government has already acknowledged the need for these crucial amendments but has, so far, failed to take advantage of the legislative opportunities available to secure the necessary changes. Now, not only is the government failing to deliver long-promised new protections for our most precious landscapes, but you are also proposing changes which will critically weaken the existing protections.

"Reducing the long-established planning protections that currently apply in Protected Landscapes will do nothing to drive economic growth. Last year, we were reassured that the government listened and responded to similar concerns about relaxing planning regulations in Protected Landscapes by not taking forward Investment Zones in these areas.

"Your predecessor, Rt Hon Simon Clarke MP, assured us that there would be no downgrading of the strong and long-established protections for National Parks and AONBs.

"We very much hope that you will also be able to provide us with an early assurance of your commitment to retaining the exemptions from permitted development rights for converting barns and other types of agricultural buildings which currently apply in Protected Landscapes."