THE North York Moors National Park Authority told of its delight last night, after new rules that threatened to create “ghost villages” were dumped.
Ministers bowed to fierce pressure by agreeing to exempt national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty from a loosening of planning restrictions.
Under the shake-up, landowners would have enjoyed permitted development rights, allowing barns to be turned into homes without planning permission.
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The North York Moors Authority had warned that buildings would be snapped up as “second homes, holiday homes or retirement homes” – and empty for much of the year.
The criticism was echoed by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, which raised the alarm over the threat to its famous “barns and walls” landscape.
Two weeks ago, planning minister Nick Boles faced a storm of protest over “ghost villages” from MPs, during a Commons debate.
Now Mr Boles has decided that changes to barn conversions will go ahead – but not in national parks, conservation areas or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
A spokesman for the North York Moors Authority said: “We are pleased that the Government has decided to uphold the long established protection for national parks by exempting them from these changes.
“The Authority has a long track record of taking a positive approach to supporting the rural economy and delivering affordable housing to meet local needs.
“The Government's approach will ensure that it can continue to exercise sensitivity and careful judgement in planning decisions, to continue this approach and safeguard the special landscape quality of the North York Moors.”
However, the minister added that national parks would still be expected to accept their share of development, taking into account “the social and economic wellbeing of the area”.
He said: “National parks, and other protected areas, are living communities whose young people and families need access to housing if their communities are to grow and prosper.”
And Mr Boles defended the changes elsewhere, saying: “These reforms will make better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings, increasing rural housing without building on the countryside.”
They mean that up to 450 sq m (4,850 sq ft) of buildings per farm can be turned into a maximum of three houses.
The Government is also amending the rules, so that up to 500 sq m of agricultural buildings on each farm can be changed into schools and nurseries.
However, farmers will not be allowed to “demolish cow sheds or outbuildings”, only to convert or renovate them, officials said.