Protection makes national parks 'museum pieces'
Strict protections of national parks including Dartmoor and Exmoor could be relaxed to encourage development on Britain's beauty spots.
Planning Minister Nick Boles has told MPs England's 10 national parks risked being "museum pieces" and "embalmed" because of special planning restrictions.
The Tory minister instead wants to see "economic and social development and growth in national parks".
He said: "These communities will only retain their appeal and retain life if they are allowed to change and to develop.
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"If people are able to get jobs and to set up businesses, that is a necessary underpinning of a national park not just as a wilderness, not like Yosemite, but as a living, breathing set of communities."
In a debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Boles revealed he was asking his officials to "work up proposals" for reform so national parks "remain the proudest jewels in the crown of the English and Welsh landscape, while also being living communities that grow, develop and thrive".
Rural campaigners last night accused Mr Boles of "peddling misconceptions", and warned they would oppose attempts to tear up their special protections.
Most national parks have been protected under law dating back to the early 1950s. Each park is run by its own national park authority, which has two statutory duties – to conserve the countryside and its wildlife, and to allow people to enjoy it.
Ministers last year shelved plans to include national parks when planning rules were rewritten that would have made development more likely.
Mr Boles, who grew up in Devon, has repeatedly stated that vast swathes of countryside should be offered up to new developments to ease the affordable housing crisis, much to the ire of rural campaigners.
And many who want more homes built in the countryside say luxury homes snapped up by second-home owners get constructed rather than much-needed affordable homes for locals.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Boles said he was worried about "the danger of making rural communities into museum pieces where they are not so much protected as embalmed".
Emma Marrington, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said national parks received 90 million visitors a year, generating more than £10 billion in revenue.
She added: "These figures suggest that instead of national park status being a block to small businesses, they attract more money into the local economy.
"Far from national parks being museum pieces, they are exemplars of sustainable development.
"Many of the misconceptions being peddled in the debate were not based on the evidence."
Mary Creagh, Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, said: "David Cameron was forced to drop plans for a duty on national parks to promote 'sustainable development' two years ago in the face of huge public outrage. Now it looks like they are trying to sneak it through again."