NATIONAL park bosses have told of their delight after the Government bowed to pressure and left the New Forest out of new planning laws.
Campaigners had feared the relaxing of planning rules would have led to “ghost villages” where people only lived at the weekends and allowed barns to be turned into homes without the need for permission.
Two weeks ago, planning minister Nick Boles faced a storm of protest over the proposed shake-up when the matter was raised during a House of Commons debate.
The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) had helped lead the protests, telling the Government last year that it was “very worried” about the plans.
It warned they would damage attempts to limit new housing to the four defined New Forest villages of Ashurst, Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Sway.
And they threatened the historic ‘commoning system’, which grants some people the right to release animals onto the open forest, creating its “mosaic of grazed habitats”.
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.
NPA chairman Julian Johnson said: “A number of Forest organisations, including ourselves, made representations to Government about the proposals.
“We are pleased that today our on-going commitment to securing a living, working Forest for the benefit of the economy and local communities has been recognised.”
However, Mr Boles 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.”
Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, welcomed the Government’s U-turn.
But he added: “There are other important New Forest towns and villages outside the boundaries of the Park, and these require protection from over-development too. We must not let down our guard.”
The new rules mean that up to |450 sq m (4,850 sq ft) of buildings per farm can be turned into a maximum of three houses.
It will also mean 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.