TWO councils have united to battle a national park’s decision to prevent disused barns being converted into business units without planning permission.

Richmondshire and North Yorkshire councils have written to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Environment Secretary Owen Patterson in an attempt to end its row with Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) over how best to preserve the barns, widely regarded as key landscape features in the area.

The councils have asked the ministers to cancel a YDNPA order exempting it from a recent Government planning ruling to allow agricultural buildings to be used for a variety of commercial uses without approval.

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As ministers bowed to fierce pressure from groups, including the North York Moors National Park Authority to exempt national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty from a loosening of planning restrictions, permission is still required for all physical changes to buildings, parking provision and access.

The YDNPA said while it supports the reuse of redundant farm buildings for business use in the right locations, the permitted development rights would give a blanket planning permission without taking into account the uniqueness of each individual application.

YDNPA chairman Peter Charlesworth said: “We think our local communities ought to have a say, through the planning process, on developments that could significantly affect them.”

The councils say by imposing the need to apply for planning permission the YDNPA is opposing the desire of central and local government to stimulate economic growth in rural areas.

While the YDNPA says its main purpose is to protect and conserve the park and to help people enjoy it, the council’s argue YDNPA’s order undermines their statutory duties to promote economic and social well being of residents and businesses.

The councils add that the order denies farmers planning rights available elsewhere in England, creates a two-tier planning regime and fails to take into account the rural nature of the area, which depends on vulnerable upland agriculture.

North Yorkshire County Council executive member for planning Gareth Dadd said: “We understand the need to care for the unique heritage of the Yorkshire Dales, but in a sparsely populated area such as this, maintaining heritage means we also have to help communities to be sustainable and to thrive socially and economically.”

John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, added: “The relaxation of planning controls would greatly assist in boosting farm incomes, tourism, business for the host of small construction trades that are a feature of the national park and the general prosperity of the local communities and local economies.”