Proposals to turn farm buildings into houses will prove a disaster for the countryside, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
It has warned that Government plans to allow farmers to convert buildings into houses are badly thought through, and would lead to a rash of housing development in the countryside, without the safeguards provided by the planning system.
But while the CPRE is against the scheme, the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) is promoting the development and diversification of farm buildings.
The two organisations seem to be on a collision course over the issue.
Proposals to grant rights to build up to three houses and demolish existing buildings could lead to suburbanised farmsteads, with local communities powerless to intervene, claims the CPRE. Its senior planning campaigner, Paul Miner, said: "These proposals will mean housing popping up in unsuitable locations in the remote countryside. And it's not just the housing but the garages, sheds, lighting and fences that will come with them that will destroy the character of rural areas."
The Department for Communities and Local Government is consulting on proposals to allow existing farm buildings to be converted to flats or houses. The CPRE supports provision of affordable homes in rural areas, including for farm workers, Mr Miner stressed. But, he said, the lack of safeguards meant the changes would enable farms of any size to convert buildings to flats or houses for sale on the open market.
Paul Miner continued: "Landowners and farmers may welcome these proposals as a licence to print money and get around the planning system by throwing some homes up and selling as soon as possible to the highest bidder. If this happens, any new housing won't even need to be affordable or be required to meet the housing needs of local people.
"The Government really should abandon these proposals and live up to its claims that it wants local people to have a say about development in their area."
But the CLA has been promoting the new permitted development rights – and will be publicising them at next month's Farm Business Innovation 2013 show, at Olympia, in London.
The show, of which the CLA is one of the promoters, runs over two days, when visitors will be able to "discover the new opportunities".
The CLA's housing adviser, Danielle Troop, will speak on how to take advantage of these new opportunities to provide housing through the use of national policies.
And the organisation's head of planning, Fenella Collins, will tell visitors that the association is championing policies that will deliver a more prosperous rural economy – including new housing in villages – and which will help with the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment, a vitally important backdrop for tourism and leisure industries in the South West.
On the first day of the event Mrs Collins will form part of a panel of experts discussing the new permitted development rights and the opportunities they may bring for farms.
She said she would: "Explain how CLA lobbying benefits land managers – particularly those who want to diversify their enterprise – because it has helped reduce red tape in the planning system, making the process of converting farm buildings simpler and more accessible."
On its stand at the show the CLA is to show how membership provides specialist knowledge and advice to help land owners and farmers diversify their businesses.
Farm Business Innovation 2013 is free and runs on November 28 and 29.