NATIONAL Park chiefs have been praised by a Government minister for supporting New Forest businesses that provide much-needed jobs.

Planning Minister Nick Boles spoke out after visiting the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, where he was briefed about other tourist-related businesses, including Lime Wood Hotel in Lyndhurst and the New Forest Tour.

Mr Boles viewed buildings that had been converted into offices, including the old fire station in Beaulieu.

He also inspected new developments in Lyndhurst and heard how the National Park Authority (NPA) uses the planning system to support the local economy.

His visit coincided with the Government’s decision to exclude national parks from a controversial new scheme that will allow farm buildings to be converted into homes without the need for planning permission.

The NPA and other campaigners had warned that the proposed relaxation of the rules could damage the Forest’s all-important tourist industry.

Mr Boles was told that tourist visits to the National Park generated more than £200m in 2011.

He said: “I was delighted to visit the New Forest and see the work the National Park is doing to protect this part of the country in a way that allows communities to thrive.

“They are showing how it’s possible to support businesses that provide much-needed jobs in a way that safeguards the magical landscape of the Forest.”

NPA chairman Julian Johnson added: “We were delighted to show the minister so many examples of how we are protecting the landscape while at the same time supporting businesses and the economy.

“Now we look forward to working with the Government to tackle the challenge of achieving well-designed affordable housing for local needs.”

The minister’s visit was arranged by Salisbury MP John Glen.

He said: “I know the meeting will help inform the Government’s approach to protecting national parks while enabling them to provide for future generations.”