PROPOSALS to ease planning rules will put the countryside at risk, say conservationists.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced a wide-ranging loosening of planning controls on Friday (25 January).
These include removing the need to apply for planning permission to convert redundant farm buildings into shops, restaurants, hotels and offices.
The need for planning permission to convert empty offices into homes would also be abolished.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England is urging the government to provide more detail about proposals to allow the conversion of farm buildings.
Farm buildings can already be put up without applying for planning permission, it said.
Without clear conditions on when the new rights could be used, a wave of "unsightly barns" could be unleashed on the countryside, ready to be converted into homes at a later date.
It could also increase the amount of development and car traffic in rural areas by encouraging offices and shops to relocate from town centres, the CPRE said.
CPRE senior planning campaigner Paul Miner said: "We are concerned that old farm buildings could be converted in completely inappropriate locations."
Unscrupulous landowners could also try to erect so-called 'farm buildings' which then became an office and then a house without any planning oversight, claimed Mr Miner.
"This would be a clear break with established planning controls over sporadic development in the countryside," he said.
The Country Land and Business Association disagreed, saying it was right that the government had heeded calls to allow changes of use for redundant agricultural buildings.
The CLA has lobbied successive governments for nearly a decade for disused farm barns and other agricultural outbuildings to be eligible for redevelopment under permitted development rights.
"This is a great victory," said CLA president Harry Cotterell.
"It means farmers and landowners can use their old agricultural buildings for new purposes without having to go through the difficult and costly full planning application process.
The change would help to underpin farming businesses and boost the rural economy by assisting in the creation of new jobs and businesses at a time when they were greatly needed.
Permitted development rights allowing redundant offices to be turned into accommodation could also boost the provision of much-needed rural homes.
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