THE first major announcement of 2004 on Government plans for the countryside is likely to stir huge controversy in rural areas.
News was leaked today that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is likely to unveil new legislation to relax hitherto extremely strict restrictions on building development in rural areas to boost local industry.
This is bound to cause major controversy between conservation groups - often represented by town-based organisations or people who have recently moved into the country from the suburbs - and local business people.
Prescott is said to be particularly keen to help farmers diversify into non-agricultural businesses or to turn redundant farm buildings into desperately needed homes for local first-time buyers.
In the Yorkshire Dales, however, there is a long history of more well-to-do residents opposing such schemes. For the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, applying any new legislation will be like walking a tight-rope.