RENTED houses in rural villages in the New Forest must be protected from the threat of extended right to buy legislation, councillors have warned.

In Lyndhurst - where nearly 30 people are on the register waiting for homes - parish councillors have welcomed new measures to help solve the crisis-level shortage in affordable housing in country districts.

But they told West Hampshire's new rural housing enabler Gordon Richardson that finding plots of land and money to build the homes would not be enough - rented properties in villages where building land is scarce should be ring-fenced to maintain the pool of cheaper houses for local families.

Lyndhurst's district and parish councillor Pat Wyeth said: "There are moves in the Conservative Party to allow right to buy to apply to housing association properties. I hope they will consider villages to be different. Rented housing built here should be for local people for ever. If they allow exceptional permission for affordable - rentable - houses to be built in places like Lyndhurst it would be a disaster if they were ever sold."

Cllr Wyeth - herself a Tory - said she has written to the New Forest's two Conservative MPs and New Forest district council housing chief Peter Greenfield asking them to lobby for moderation of the Tory party's recent right to buy policy.

Gordon Richardson, a former New Forest housing officer who is visiting parish councils throughout the New Forest, Test Valley and Winchester in his new role, said he was aware of the danger. For a housing association to build in a village like Lyndhurst, they would very likely use 'exceptional policy land' only available because of proven local need. Planners are trying to protect the area and it is not easy to find sites," he said.

"Parish councils should be able to vet people to make sure there are the correct local connections. It's the only justification for using greenfield sites in a village as beautiful as Lyndhurst."

Cllr Wyeth - who chairs the district planning development control committee confirmed that there were three potential sites in Lyndhurst for affordable housing.

She said that according to latest district policy, 35 per cent of new-build properties in Forest villages must be "affordable" - run by a housing association at a rent of less than £100-a-week for a three-bedroom home.