The hills around Farnham and Haslemere are alive with the sound of anger amid government plans to relax the laws on property conversion.

Concerns have been raised in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) about plans to relax Permitted Development Rights (PDRs).

Proposed changes to planning legislation would make it easier to convert agricultural buildings, stables, workshops and similar properties into housing.

The relaxation would give free rein for landowners to convert rural buildings without having to go through the usual planning processes. Critics claim the move will only benefit the rich and not give the area what it needs – namely more affordable housing.

Kathy Atkinson, chair of the Surrey Hills AONB, has called for a rethink as she believes the changes represent a “significant threat to the beauty and rural economy” of the area.

She said: “We all agree that more affordable housing is needed right across the south-east of England but this latest proposal is not the mechanism to deliver it. 

“Everyone who lives and works in the Surrey Hills is familiar with the housing pressures here and the sky-high costs of both housing and commercial premises. 

“Turning agricultural buildings that may serve a whole range of functions into what are most likely to be exclusive, luxury homes, to be sold at price points way out of reach of most of Surrey’s residents, flies in the face of the whole purpose of designating the Surrey Hills as a nationally protected landscape.”

The potential impact of the proposed changes to PDRs was presented to the Surrey Hills Board AGM at Box Hill last Wednesday by planning officer Clive Smith.

He said: “It is in the public interest that applications for conversions continue to be given the consideration they deserve, given the nationally protected status of the Surrey Hills.”