National park chiefs in Hampshire have expressed “disappointment” and “concern” over a Government consultation which could see agricultural buildings converted into houses without planning permission.

The consultation from the levelling up department proposes loosening the planning systems for national parks and other conservation areas to give farmers “greater freedom” to change the use of their existing buildings to residential use.

The consultation states: “Allowing our town and village centres within protected landscapes (such as national parks) to benefit from the right could help ensure the longer-term viability and vitality of these community hubs, supporting the residents and businesses that rely on them.”

But the New Forest and the South Downs national parks in Hampshire warn the changes could have unintended consequences.

New Forest National Park Authority said they were “disappointed” with the proposal, saying it would undermine the local economy.

Chair of the New Forest National Park Authority, Professor Gavin Parker, said: “Our initial reaction is that we are very disappointed about the proposals.

“We have up-to-date planning policies which already make good provision for new housing in the National Park while also supporting local farming, agriculture and tourism. We are concerned that this latest proposal on permitted development rights will undermine the local economy and will not address our local housing needs.

“We will be considering the details with National Park Authority Members at our September Planning Committee meeting and will be formulating a full response to the consultation.”

South Downs National Park Authority is working up a formal response that will be submitted by the end of September in which they “will ensure that National Parks are fully considered in any potential changes”.

The public consultation will end on September 25. Have your say here.