A U-turn looms over new planning rules for the New Forest amid warnings they will create “ghost villages” full of holiday homes.

Planning minister Nick Boles suggested that the Government would think again after protests over proposals to allow barns to be turned into homes without planning permission in national parks.

Critics claim the relaxation of planning rules could have a devastating impact on the Forest’s economy.

A decision was expected this month but the Daily Echo understands it has been delayed, suggesting a climbdown will follow.

Last night the potential U-turn was welcomed by the National Park Authority (NPA), which has led protests against the new rules.

Cllr Pat Wyeth chairman of the NPA’s planning and development control committee, said the Forest was a special case, adding: “We’ve got an awful lot of barns and if many of them are converted into homes we could lose our farming economy.”

Fellow NPA member Maureen Holding said: “If we urbanise the Forest we will lose our countryside and our visitors.”

Last year the NPA said the new rules could damage attempts to limit new housing in the four defined New Forest villages of Ash-urst, Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Sway. It also warned that the move threatened the Commoning system, which allows villagers to release their ponies, cattle and donkeys on to the open forest.

In a submission to the Government the NPA said: “This proposal would seriously undermine many of our long-established planning policies.

“It risks losing the essential infrastructure (farm buildings and grazing land) necessary to support Commoning, which in turn could threaten the very landscape that, as a National Park, we were set up to protect.”

During a Commons debate, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said ministers should let national parks continue to make their own planning decisions. He added: “The proposal that national parks such as the New Forest should be open to this sort of unregulated development is preposterous.”

In reply Mr Boles suggested that national parks could retain the right to require planning permission.

He told MPs: “The Government recognises that national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are so called for a reason and have a special status. It is a status we must respect.”

The Country Landowners Association (CLA) has lobbied for looser planning rules on barn conversions and welcomed the proposals as a boost for the rural economy.