The stunning landscape of the Yorkshire Dales – and the well-being of its local communities – will be dealt a severe blow if changes to planning laws are introduced, National Park guardians claim.

The Government is proposing to allow agricultural buildings like barns to be turned into homes without the need for planning permission.

Peter Charlesworth, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said it would cause “irreversible harm”.

“This national park contains more barns than any other, an estimated 6,000,” he said. “The Government proposals to relax the restrictions will have potentially disastrous consequences here, probably more than in any other area of England.

“Valleys full of fields dotted with these stone field barns could be transformed into a semi-urban environment with roads and overhead power and phone lines.

“In addition, there would be major disruption of the landscape to install the basic infrastructure like sewer and water pipes. The authority would be powerless to control it or to prevent it from happening.

“The Government’s proposal would totally undermine local efforts to provide more affordable housing for local people.

“Barn conversions tend to be very expensive and are more likely to deliver ‘second homes in the fields’ than an affordable ‘Home on the Farm’.

“The proposals are bad for the landscape and bad for local communities and, quite frankly, they make a mockery of the Government’s claim to be supporters of localism, ” he said.

The park, which has sent a written submission to the Government, also says the removal of the need for planning permission would conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework, as well as the authority’s own adopted housing development plan policies.

Meanwhile, an open letter, co-ordinated by the Campaign For National Parks, has also been sent to Planning Minister Nick Boles MP, urging him to exempt national parks from proposals.

It has been signed by nine Friends groups, including the Gargrave-based Yorkshire Dales Society.

Anne Robinson, chairman of the Campaign For National Parks, said: “These proposals would undermine the Government’s existing commitments to protect national parks and could lead to pockets of suburbia in areas which are much loved for their open space, natural beauty and tranquillity.”

Malcolm Petyt, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society, added: “We strongly object to the Government’s proposals to reduce protection for historic barns as they make such a huge contribution to the stunning landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Many other protected areas are also threatened by this removal of planning controls over converting barns to houses.”

The Government’s response to the consultation is expected soon.