THOUSANDS of visitors from China may flock to Barnsley after plans to relax visa rules were announced by chancellor George Osborne.

Under the plan, Chinese nationals visiting the European Union will not need to submit separate UK visa applications if they book with selected travel agents.

Barnsley has links with China in the form of 19th century missionary James Hudson Taylor, who travelled from Barnsley to China and is considered a spiritual leader by 70 million Christians in the Far East.

Owen Gleadall, president of the Barnsley Chamber of Commerce, said the proposals meant many 'ordinary' people would now be able to travel.

"We've been chasing it long enough now and as far as people coming to Barnsley from mainland China, it will make a massive impact.

"You could always get here if you had a significant amount of money, the issue was with the tourist visa."

He said the Chinese had previously found it difficult to meet the stipulated criteria when applying for a UK visa.

"We want to make friends with the Chinese and want their money but they turned around and said 'we can't get into your country'. Anywhere else in mainland Europe wasn't a problem but the UK made it really difficult for some obscure reason.

"It was an obstacle we put in their way but no other European country had."

He said latest figures from Visit England placed the UK number 24 on a list of 25 places visited by the Chinese, with 200,000 visitors last year.

Currently, Chinese visitors can apply for a single visa to visit much of Europe, but a separate one is needed to travel to the UK.

Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis has encouraged the town to take advantage of the changes to entice Chinese tourists.

He said: "Hudson Taylor the most famous westerner in a country of more than 1.3 billion people. Already many of them come to Barnsley to trace his roots but it has been difficult because of visa rules.

“Now there are plans to simplify this and Barnsley must not miss out of this fantastic opportunity. I have long been arguing that the town must do more on this issue and so look forward to local stakeholders capitalising on the unique advantage we have, to attract Chinese tourists to spend money in Barnsley and help grow our local economy and create jobs for Barnsley people."