Camping in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The  Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), campers and touring caravans.

“If I Were a Rich Man – I could visit the Yorkshire Dales ” – might be the song of the future for this National Park if those with brightly coloured tents are not encouraged to come. We can but hope that what has happened at Westholme near Aysgarth does not set an irresistible trend.

When Tom and Margaret Knowles first owned the site they welcomed many Scout groups with tents and sleeping bags. Over the years those young people and their parents wanted to come back – and so, in the 1970s, this family site developed into a park for static caravans, touring caravans and tents.

Today no tents are allowed thanks to a condition imposed by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA)  and a camping pod there costs between £35-£45 a night. A lodge for two costs over £400 per week – or you can buy one for £182,000 or more.

The situation for those on low incomes who want to visit the Yorkshire Dales won’t improve unless the YDNPA does take a more positive stance concerning campers and touring caravans, and if the government does not close the loophole whereby it can be claimed that a large lodge can be defined as a static caravan. If not many more caravan park owners throughout Britain will be tempted to change to the format that is proving so profitable for what is now the Westholme Estate – and areas of outstanding beauty like the Yorkshire Dales will become playgrounds for the rich. This was surely not the idea  when the National Parks were created !

The Association of Rural Communities has therefore sent the following news release about camping and touring caravan sites in the Yorkshire Dales, as part of the ARC News Service, to all the local and weekly newspapers which cover the area for which the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has so much responsibility.

N Yorks County Coun John Blackie appalled one member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on Tuesday June 12 when he asserted at the YDNPA planning committee that the authority still had a bias against campers.

He wondered why a planning officer had produced such a lengthy (albeit excellent) report when the owners of a small camp site at Silloth House, Austwick, only wanted to increase the number of pitches for touring caravans and tents from six to 13, and queried the way the authority viewed tents. To that Ann Brooks responded: “I am amazed at Mr Blackie’s remarks – with no facts or figures to back up what he says. I am appalled.”

The Association of Rural Communities first highlighted the problem of this bias against campers in 2008.  After several letters to the YDNPA it finally found out that  the planning department had given approval in 2007 for the remodelling the holiday park at Westholme near Aysgarth on condition that the site could no longer be used for pitching tents, touring caravans, trailer tents or mobile homes for the “benefit to the natural beauty of the landscape”. Richard Graham,  now head of development management at the YDNPA, stated then that the planting of more trees would not provide any significant improvement in visual and landscape terms as “there will still be brightly coloured tents”.

The remodelling of that holiday park, agreed to by planning officers under designated powers and without the knowledge of the YDNPA planning committee, has led to what is now the Westholme Estate becoming a multi million pound eco lodge site. The park began as a camping site and, with space for  20 to 30 tents, became  an important overnight stop for Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme participants.

In 2008 Mr Graham recommended that Honeycott Caravan Park at Hawes could remove all tent and touring caravan pitches and replace them with static caravans. Coun Blackie with the support of the Association of Rural Communities and Hawes and High Abbotside parish council argued that the application should be refused. The planning committee agreed with him and that was upheld at appeal because the inspector believed there would be a significant loss in touring caravans and tent pitches.  At the appeal hearing it was reported that approximately 200 touring caravan pitches had been lost in Upper Wensleydale in recent years.  After the Honeycott decision it was decided that all decisions concerning caravan and camp sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park should be made by the planning committee and not by officers under delegated powers.

Coun Blackie stated on Tuesday: “At this time (of economic difficulty) tents are the choice of the day to get out into the countryside. Do we want our local economies to thrive or not,  particularly at a time when those in the dales are struggling? I believe we need to think long and hard about our approach.”

He pointed to the recent decision to issue the camping and touring caravan site at Old Hall Cottage,  Hardraw, with a lawful development certificate (LDC). This will allow the site to be used by campers and caravaners from Good Friday until October 31. At the meeting of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council in April it was stated that the YDNPA should have issued that LDC as a formality for the site had been in existence for over 50 years. Instead a planning officer demanded very detailed information about the number of camping units that had been on the land for every calendar day for at least the last ten years.

To that Coun Blackie had responded: “Whilst of course you may wish to seek further corroborative evidence beyond this by way of usage statistics, local people and businesses may well interpret your demand for what by any standard is an unreasonable level of information to support an LDC as an attempt by the YDNPA to stifle the tented and touring caravan section of the visitor accommodation trade, to the detriment of the economic and social well-being of the local communities.”

The LDC was issued after the owners provided copies of booking-in sheets for just one year. And at the planning committee meeting on Tuesday approval was given for the increase in the number of pitches at Silloth House.

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