A boom in small factories, caravan parks and houses on farmland could wreck the countryside, campaigners warn.
The campaign wants to maintain the countryside's 'tranquillity'
The Campaign to Protect Rural England fears that government policies will squander the value of rural areas as an economic asset.
It warns of the problem of encouraging indiscriminate development in the name of diversification.
The land could lose out to footloose businesses located in the countryside but not dependent on it, says the CPRE.
"Simply stoking up
economic activity in the countryside without regard to needs or impacts would be
counter productive," head of rural policy at the CPRE, Tom Oliver, said.
"The quality of the countryside, the long-term viability of businesses which
contribute to its beauty and targeted support for rural communities hit by a
decline in agriculture, are all put at risk by a crude aim to maximise the
economic potential in rural areas."
He said a healthy economy was vital to "the survival of attractive, ordinary countryside, but as farmers diversify, it is crucial that new businesses enhance their
rural setting and help sustain the management of the land".
He called for rural diversification to contribute to "the character and tranquillity of the countryside".
"That way, both the nation's interest in enjoying the countryside and local
communities' prosperity will be secured in the long term.
"There is a real prospect of urban businesses increasingly locating in rural
Examples highlighted by CPRS research include:
In Kent permission was granted for the conversion of stables to an industrial development on a farm in Gravesham.
The industry has no connection with local landscape or with farming. It is for
the manufacture of concrete paving slabs. The farm is down a small country lane
so access is also difficult.
In Devon, an unlawful residential building has been allowed on the site of
a former milking parlour.
It was originally granted as a conversion of the milking parlour but when that
fell down, a new residential building was put up in its place.
It was allowed through retrospective planning permission and brings no
particular economic benefit to the local community.
In the Peak District National Park, a caravan park was proposed on a farm
clearly visible from several locations. This was recommended for refusal by
planning officers, but was eventually approved.
It is contrary to the Peak
Park's policies on visual intrusion and raises questions about the commitment of
the High Peaks to protecting the landscape quality of the area.
In Bedfordshire, a former arable farm in the open countryside received
permission for a nursery and bulb sheds.
This was subsequently converted with permission to a printing works and
finally to a warehouse and distribution business. There is intense and visible
lighting on winter evenings and continued pressure for expansion.