Kevin Lancaster has been a member of South Lakeland District Council since 1997 and last year was elected to Cumbria County Council. He was a member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority ( YDNPA ) from 1996 to 2011. His ward includes parishes that will be affected by the extensions to the Yorkshire Dales National Park proposed by Natural England. Here are excerpts from his letter to Natural England:
Personally, as a resident of Yorkshire Dales all my life and a member of the authority since 1996 and Chairman for the year 2008/9 I have little doubt that inclusion in the National Park has been harmful for the communities of Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent, all of which I have represented since 1997. Fundamentally this harm stems from the inherently undemocratic nature of the authority. Yorkshire Dales is not worse than the other National Park Authorities – it is much better than several. But, the lack of direct electoral input results in an authority which exercises democratic functions over an area without any legitimacy. There is little surprise therefore that compared with the district and county authorities which serve their areas National Parks perform poorly.
LOSS OF IDENTITY
It is a fundamental weakness of most English National Parks that they sit in marginal land areas between settled communities. This is as true for Exmoor and the Lake District as it is for Yorkshire Dales. Thus whilst to outsiders “The Yorkshire Dales” appears as an entity it is in fact three distinct communities – Swaledale and Wensleydale looking towards Leyburn and Richmond; Wharfedale looking towards Skipton and Leeds; and Sedbergh and Dent looking towards Kendal and Lancaster. These distinct communities clearly interact but have little in common. It would be fair to say that the area which you designate “YD West” looks towards Kendal and Lancaster but the Northern search areas look more to Penrith and Carlisle. Certainly neither look towards Bainbridge or Grassington.Thus there is an immediate incongruity in linking these areas with “The Yorkshire Dales”. How much more is this imbalance exacerbated by the distinction of name. You will have seen the visceral opposition which has been engendered within the existing Yorkshire Dales by the suggestion that a more neutral name, either “The Dales NPA” or “Yorkshire and Westmorland Dales NPA” could be adopted. I shudder to think what the reaction would be to “Westmorland and Yorkshire Dales NPA”.
In your methodology you have made little serious attempt to engage with the communities concerned. It is unfortunate that the presentations from Natural England have been so completely one-sided and that you have failed to invite platform speakers who could give a cogent dissenting view. This in spite of the fact that many such people can be found. Regrettably you have relied on public meetings and responses to a biased questionnaire. In polling terms these cannot produce an accurate response and for a government body their use is a scandal.
IMPACT ON FARMERS
It has been asserted at public meetings that inclusion within the Yorkshire Dales will be beneficial for the farming industry. It is suggested that somehow the farming industry benefits from particular grants for farming within a National Park. That is self-evidently wrong. As a farmer in the Yorkshire Dales I have never been entitled to any grant which I would not have been entitled to farming the same land outside the park. It is dishonest to suggest otherwise. The only farmers which I know of who are within YDNP schemes are in the Ingleborough area and those schemes are dependent upon the special conservation area status of the land concerned. National Park designation is not relevant. The vast majority of farmers within YDNP receive no extra payments for being within the National Park and will not do in the future either. I understand the relevant officer of YDNP fully accepts that this is the case. I understand also that he objected to the relevant passage within the draft documentation. It is unfortunate that you chose to disregard his correction.
As a subordinate body under DEFRA I believe you have a duty to do a regulatory impact assessment to determine what effect designation would have on an agricultural business. You seem not to have done this. If you have which farms have you selected for the assessment ? My experience suggests that being within a National Park has a detrimental effect on most agricultural businesses. Whilst on the face of it the planning process is not materially different for agricultural buildings the experience of several of my constituents is that planning officers make the process difficult and sometimes there is little way forward without the intervention of members.
It might be supposed that with specialist conservation staff a National Park would perform well on conservation of historic buildings. Whilst for the main part the archaeological staff and Building Conservation Officers have a sound generalist understanding of their subjects they lack specialist knowledge of the vernacular architecture of either the current National Park or the areas which surround it. This is my area of expertise and I have found the reports of planning officers and building conservation officers shocking in their gratuitous ignorance. There can be little confidence that protection of the built environment will be enhanced by inclusion within a National Park.
It is suggested that designation will prevent undesirable applications being approved on the open fells. It is not clear as to what exactly National Park status is intended to protect the area from. National conservation policy has changed markedly since the 1949 Act and national planning guidance effectively outlaws such development for the most part. As there could be little change on the open fells I must assume that the targets for this protection are either wind farms or other activities in the valley floors which are currently taking place lawfully. The proponents, even when directly challenged refuse to make clear what developments they wish to resist. I am sceptical as to whether NPA designation can make any difference to the wind farm issue. Certainly it ought not to as you have already claimed the land in question is of high landscape value by instigating this consultation. However, until a more rational approach is adopted on renewable energy the threat of wind farms will plague all of South Lakeland. All that further designation could do would be to concentrate the same number of wind farms in a narrower corridor between the two National Parks.
FARMING IN THE LUNE VALLEY
Virtually all of the land within the present YDNP is either “Disadvantaged” or “Severely Disadvantaged”. However, below Middleton Head the quality of the valley floor land improves dramatically. Much of the enclosed land within Middleton, Barbon and Casterton is extremely productive. The first cut of silage is generally complete in those areas by the end of May. Sedbergh is about a month later and Dent another month later still. It is indicative of your initial research that the report does not mention this fact. Travelling from Kirkby Lonsdale through the area of search and through the present YDNP no land of similar quality is encountered again until beyond Leyburn – beyond the National Park. Onerous as being within the park has been for farmers in Sedbergh and Dent this would be much more harmful to the highly productive farms of the Lune valley, many of which will not be eligible for the new Upland Stewardship scheme. I know of several farmers within Casterton and Barbon who have erected very large buildings in the last couple of years in order to remain competitive. It is their fear that a National Park would obstruct their future development plans. My experience as an NPA member supports their view.
NATIONAL PARK MEMBERSHIP
Another issue of great concern is membership of the National Park Authority. Historically there were 26 members and that number balanced up the three districts well. I note with concern the suggestion that the new authority could continue to operate with 22 members. In fact 26 are needed to represent the present area and a further four at least would be needed if all the proposed areas were to be included. Selection of Secretary of State Members would also have to be adjusted. At present Natural England appears to favour retirees from urban areas with virtually no understanding of the current Yorkshire Dales let alone the Lune valley. It seems that certain national charities such as the Campaign For National Parks promote candidates for vacancies to the disadvantage of genuine local candidates.
ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO PROTECT SPECIAL LANDSCAPES
It is to be regretted that your report does not consider alternatives to designation as part of a National Park. The whole of the suggested western extension is along with Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent part of the historic entity of Lonsdale – Kirkby Lonsdale, Middleton in Lonsdale and Sedbergh in Lonsdale. This is a natural collection which dates back beyond the Conquest. In 1086 they comprised the very last entry in the Domesday Book. I would advocate that YD West should become an AONB (Area of Natural Beauty). “The Upper Lonsdale AONB”, “South Westmorland AONB” are all names which are suggested. At many public meetings where your proposals received an extremely hostile reception this suggestion was on the contrary welcomed.
Designation of a major part of its area as National Park would be extremely disruptive to South Lakeland. Its LDF and employment land policies would all have to be substantially re-written. It is understandable that residents of South Lakeland outside the two National Parks are extremely concerned that development will have to be squeezed within their areas.