Mission to save rural communities

This month N Yorks County and Richmondshire District councillor John Blackie launched a year long mission aimed at preventing the drain of young people and young families from the rural and deeply rural communities of Richmondshire including the Yorkshire Dales. (The press release issued Richmondshire District Council  is at the end of this post.) He then asked the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) to take part in this important mission. At the Full Authority meeting of the YDNPA on September 23 the Association of Rural Communities made the following statement to which the chairman of the Authority, Peter Charlesworth, made a response. See also YDNPA Full Authority meeting September 2014.

Statement by the Association of Rural Communities:

The Association of Rural Communities supports the mission launched by Cllr John Blackie to prevent the drain of young people and young families from deeply rural areas like the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This Association has, since its inception, stood for the need to protect and encourage the viability of local communities in the Dales.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority does have a duty of care to this beautiful landscape – but it can’t do that on its own. The majority of the work of maintaining this landscape is carried out by farmers and landowners, and the communities to which they belong. This means the Authority also has a duty of care to those who live and work in the Yorkshire Dales.

But many communities are becoming unviable as their lifeblood – young people and young families – are leaving. So the Authority needs to consider whether its planning system is undermining those communities.

The Authority boasts that over 90 per cent of planning applications are approved. This, however, does not take into account the number of applications which are withdrawn or the factors which stop local families applying to convert barns either into homes or for commercial use.This year a farming family in Litton has had to pay over £10,000 in various fees to obtain permission to convert a barn against officer recommendation. And they are not the only ones who have had to pay so much to fight the system.

Farmers and landowners are very aware of the high cost of working in the National Park. Those stories are shared at auction marts and create bad will and a desire to avoid the planning system. That in turn undermines small dales’ communities.

Often there is the impression that the planning system favours the rich over the poor, the wealthy incomer over those on lower incomes whose families have lived in the dales for generations.

It doesn’t help when the draft local plan looks as if it favours “glamping” and chalets cum luxury lodges over traditional camping and touring caravans. But the latter bring in far more income to local shops and businesses than from those rich enough to rent more luxurious holiday accommodation. Just look at the negative impact upon local businesses in Kettlewell when a camp site closed last year.

We were encouraged that those at the last planning committee meeting set good precedents for encouraging young families to return to the Dales and in supporting business sites like The Courtyard near Settle in their need for sufficient and good signage so as to remain viable. We hope those examples will set the pattern for the future.


Peter Charlesworth’s response:

“I really do hope that the Association of Rural Communities do not take a negative view of the work of the Authority because, if I may say so, I think there is so much more that unites us than divides us.”

He said he might not agree on the analysis of the points raised and that the problems facing rural areas had been much the same since the industrial revolution. Other national parks were facing similar problems with depopulation and he added: “Our communities here are facing very serious challenges”

“Indeed all these challenges were recognised explicitly by this authority and our partners who cooperated in making the National Park Management Plan and we set, I believe, meaningful objectives in the management plan to try and tackle them. Several of these objectives will tackled through our policies in the new Local Plan which is being consulted upon as we speak.

“I think there is also an opportunity during discussions on several papers we are discussing this afternoon to look at what practical measures we can take that can improve the situation. And that is the key for me and my final response to (this) statement. That we are genuinely trying to find practical actions rather than simply saying ‘well there’s a problem – something needs to be done about it.

“I hope as (ARC) does that we can rise to that challenge and I hope that we can work together with all parties including the Association of Rural Communities in … genuine co-operation and goodwill to try and face up to the problems which (ARC) has outlined.”

Young families becoming an endangered species –  press release issued by Richmondshire District Council.

Councillors at Richmondshire District Council have endorsed a year long mission launched by its Leader, Cllr John Blackie, to prevent the drain of young people and young families from the rural and deeply rural communities in the District.

A debate at its Corporate Board discussed concerns over the lack of affordable housing, the poor quality of employment and business opportunities, little or no access to essential services, spasmodic public transport, NHS services such as GP Surgeries and local maternity services being lost, that are evident in rural communities, and concluded the threat of these communities collapsing in on themselves was all too real unless more can be done to retain their young people and young families.

It was agreed that the problem cannot be solved simply by the Council acting on its own, as it needs a co-ordinated approach working with all those key players involved in community development with everyone acting within its own remit to make improvements, however small, to brighten the outlook for the future.

The Council has agreed to take a lead by being very active in lobbying regional and national organisations to raise awareness of the acute plight of rural communities. This will also include hosting a Conference on the issues later in the year. In the meantime it is preparing a series of detailed papers on the key concerns to explore what the Council can do, acting in partnership with others as appropriate, to help address the problems.

Cllr John Blackie said “16 years ago two local primary schools in the Upper Dales had 117 children on their combined school rolls. In September there will be just 67 pupils because local young families, faced with insurmountable difficulties to overcome, have voted with their feet and moved away. Children gracing the corridors and classrooms of our small rural schools are the lifeline to a vibrant, sustainable long term future for their local communities, and without them we are but a generation or two away from witnessing their complete collapse”

He added “Storm clouds are now directly overhead and unless we act quickly now and act together in doing so young people and young families will sadly become an endangered species in our rural areas. Doing nothing and hoping things might improve soon is simply not an option. They will not.”

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