Some reports from YDNPA Full Authority meetings 2012 to 2014, provided by the ARC News Service
There were times at the YDNPA full authority meeting on March 25 2014 when I felt as if I was listening to people from two different worlds.
Above: very much a family affair – Leyburn Auction Mart 2007
There was that of the auction marts in the Yorkshire Dales where farmers shared stories about trying to survive under the regime of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Stories of how planning officers put people off from making applications; of how farmers in the past had helped to create the wonderful landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales but their descendants were not trusted to take care of it; and of how children were being forced to move away even though their parents had a barn which could be converted either into a home for them, or into a workshop, restaurant or shop where they could make a living.
There was some hope on the horizon when the government decided to relax the planning regulations. Maybe at last those within the National Park would have the same opportunities as those just outside it. But if the YDNPA does introduce an Article 4 Direction in January 2015 farmers will require full planning permission for the change of use of all barns to commercial purposes.
At the full authority meeting the alternative view of life in the Yorkshire Dales won the day. This was summed up by Ann Brooks who was speaking as the member champion for sustainable development at what was her last meeting as a YDNPA member. She argued that planning controls were needed to protect the landscape and legitimate public interests – and she encouraged applicants to consult with the planning officers to get the best possible results. (more below)
Cllr Blackie pointed out that the refusal of planning permission for six barns in Arkengarthdale some years ago had led to three of them now being completely derelict. “They look like Indian funeral pyres,” he commented.
He warned that if the YDNPA wasn’t careful it would end up being as reviled by local people as it was back in the 1990s. And why? Because the world of a quango like the YDNPA seems sometimes to bear so little relationship to the daily reality of the Dales farmers who still play such a vital role in conserving the landscape.
Above – don’t ask the local farmers what they think of the design of the YDNPA office in Bainbridge! One of the objectives that is outlined in the Authority’s draft Action Plan 2014-15 is to …encourage innovative, high-quality and more sustainable building design that complements the distinctive character of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Another objective is to support farmers and landowners to deliver a wide range of environmental benefits…..”
The issues discussed included: approving the Yorkshire Dales Housing Development Plan even though several members disagreed with the recommendations made by the appeal inspector David Vickery; the new Code of Conduct including guidance about lobbying; the new protocol about contact with the media; environmental schemes and the need for farmers to be more productive; and the Pennine Bridleway at Long Preston.
The YDNPA’s convention that those chairing meetings should stand down after four years, was put to the test at the full Authority meeting. Harold Brown thought he could not continue as deputy chair of the Authority having already been so for four years and Peter Charlesworth had accepted a request that he should be nominated. Then it was found there was, as the Authority’s solicitor explained, no legal duty to stand down.
The chief executive, David Butterworth, said that in 2001 the Association of Rural Communities (ARC) had asked the Authority to consider holding secret ballots and setting a fixed term of office. Secret ballots were introduced and it was agreed to have a standing order limiting the period that anyone could chair the Authority to four years. In 2003 Defra had, however, pointed out that according to the 1995 Environment Act such a limit on holding office was unlawful. “The Authority was irritated” commented Mr Butterworth. Since then it has been a convention to limit the period of office to four years.
When explaining why he had decided to be nominated again Mr Brown, who is a parish council representative, said: “I am the only uplands farmer on this Authority now. The upland farmers created this landscape.” He warned, however, that as so many young people were unable to find affordable homes in areas like Swaledale there could, in the future, be a shortage of those who could repair the dry stone walls and maintain the farms.
Mr Charlesworth expressed his deep respect for Mr Brown but but added that, having been asked if he would accept nomination, he became quite excited at the idea. “I am passionate about this landscape,” he said. In the secret ballot eight voted for Mr Brown and 12 for Mr Charlesworth. Craven District Councillor Carl Lis was re-elected as chairman of the Authority.
Yorkshire Dales Housing Development Plan
The long term sustainability of some of the small hamlets and villages in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales has been undermined by the decision of the appeal inspector, David Vickery, to reject four sites for affordable housing, it was stated at the meeting.
Several members criticised the inspector’s amendments to the Yorkshire Dales Housing Development Plan including Richmondshire District Councillor Malcolm Gardner. When told that the YDNPA could not lodge an appeal against the inspector’s decision he stated: “I am not prepared to accept a plan which limits the sustainability and development of the local population in two of the communities (in Swaledale).” He said that this plan would put a noose around villages like Muker and that in Gunnerside 60 per cent of the houses were either second homes or holiday homes.
North Yorkshire County Councillor Richard Welch said that the inspector’s report encouraged the creation of ghettoes for the rich. And North Yorkshire County Councillor John Blackie deeply regretted that the inspector had neither listened to nor responded to the large number of local people who had asked him to reconsider his decision. He added that local people in villages like Aysgarth felt completely let down.
Cumbria County Councillor Roger Bingham said: “We need to point out to the inspector the really serious social and demographic flaw in his opinion that there should be no small scale development in small hamlets and villages.” He and others warned that by not allowing such small scale developments the villages would become full of elderly retirees and the countryside would be spoiled.
But the majority felt they had to vote to accept the plan with those amendments because otherwise the Authority would have to start work on a new one. The present plan took five years to produce. Cllr Lis commented: “I believe it would be folly not to accept the report of the Inspector.” Councillors Gardner and Blackie had their votes against the plan recorded.
Peter Stockton, the YDNPA head of sustainable development, said that the inspector had rejected the four small sites (at Muker, Low Row, Aysgarth and Thornton Rust) on the basis of what he felt were sound planning considerations. Mr Stockton reminded members that some local people had objected to them. The YDNPA had retained its rural exceptions policy whereby planning applications could be made to develop unallocated sites in villages so long as these were for 100 per cent affordable housing. He added, however, that if an application was received for any of the sites which were rejected by the inspector, Mr Vickery’s report would have to be taken into consideration.
Lobbying and contact with the Media
Fears that their constituents would stop discussing planning issues with them led to elected members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority refusing to accept a protocol on lobbying which called for them to name those who had spoken to them.
But a warning by Cllr Blackie that the new guidance on how to deal with the media would stifle fair and legitimate comment went unheeded.
In the revision of the Authority’s Code of Good Practice it stated that members should, at the start of a planning committee, disclose the identities of those who had lobbied them and whether the lobbying was for or against the proposal. Cllr Gardner said: “This is a step backwards. (People) may not approach me in the future if they know I am going to give their names.”
Cllr Welch pointed out that North Yorkshire County Council did not have any such rules on lobbying and it should be sufficient just to state that members had been lobbied for or against an application. Until now they have only had to state that they had been lobbied.
No one agreed with Cllr Blackie that the proposed new rule would be anti democratic and unworkable but North Yorkshire County Councillor Shelagh Marshall did state: “This eats at the very basis of being an elected member.”
The majority voted for the protocol to be amended to state that they only had to declare if they had been lobbied for or against an application.
In the discussion about the new media procedure and protocol Cllr Blackie said: “I have not the slightest intention of obeying any of this code. Anyone who deals with the press on a regular basis can’t possibly follow this code which is designed to silence members and stifle legitimate comment.”
The new code which was approved by the majority of the members states: “Anyone speaking on behalf of the Authority is the representative of the whole organisation during that interview and should give the official Authority response and decision.” It pointed out that the Authority needed to work in close partnership with the media to be seen as a professional and respected organisation adding: “Effective media management and coordination of all media responses is a vital part of the Authority’s communications procedures.”
Chris Armitage felt that it was possible for interviewees to clearly state at the beginning of a media interview who they were speaking on behalf of, and which issues they could address.
The new protocol was produced following some negative media coverage of the Authority. Cllr Blackie ascertained from Mr Butterworth that this was, in part, due to his comments about the £4,000 spent on sending representatives of the Authority to London to receive what to him was a “meaningless award” (Low Carbon Council of the Year Award).
Mr Butterworth said that the protocol was not designed to stifle members but that those connected to the Authority, including members, should speak with one voice and in accordance with its adopted policies.
In its new code of conduct following the introduction of the Localism Act members must not only disclose their own personal and pecuniary interests but also those of their spouses, civil partners or those they are living with as partners.
Farming, the environment and public rights of way:
In his final report on the National Park Management Plan 2007-2012 Gary Smith, director of conservation and community, reported that 85 per cent of the Yorkshire Dales (over 40,000 hectares) was now covered by some form of environmental agreement as compared to 70 per cent in 2008. The achievements he listed included the installation of three hydro-electric schemes, 128km of rights of way being made accessible to users with limited mobility and the opening of the 83km Pennine Bridleway route through the park.
He told the members: “The vast majority of the farmers in this National Park would not survive without getting some kind of public support for the environmental input that they bring.” He said that this input was now worth over £7 million a year which was as important to the local economy as to the environmental benefits.
Mr Brown, however, warned there was a lot of change ahead and concerning the Environmentally Sensitive Areas schemes (ESA) he said: “The agreements have come to the end and the sad fact is the farmers have run the fertility of the land down because they weren’t allowed to apply fertiliser and they weren’t allowed to cut it early. Now we are all having to look at a bit more production to stay viable.” Some farmers had already made the first cut and applied fertiliser to fields that until now had been part of the ESA scheme. He added that the number of sheep on the moors might be increased to help feed this country.
Craven District Councillor John Roberts pointed out that the local community had not been involved nor was it informed about the private hydro-electric scheme at Halton Gill which had received public funding. Cllr Welch said he had been very impressed by that scheme but that there was far less public funding available now. William Weston commented that as there was less money to hand out they would have to “influence hearts and minds” to encourage those in the park to be involved in environmental projects.
Andrew Colley asked Mr Smith if the targets for making rights of way more accessible to those with limited mobility could be increased. Mr Smith responded that the two factors which made this difficult was the topography of the National Park and the willingness of landowners to allow stiles to be removed etc.
One section of the Pennine Bridleway was still not complete – and that was at Long Preston. Cllr Welch felt that the scheme had caused a lot of animosity in the village and asked if the route of the bridleway could be reconsidered. Mr Butterworth said: “We have to get across the road. We have to work with the parish council to find out what was in the best interests of the village itself, get the majority view, and then get on with the work while the funding it still there for us to do it.”
This began with the election of the new chairman and vice-chairman.The issues discussed included: the impact of the NHS England proposals to phase out compensation to rural GP surgeries through the minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG); green lanes and traffic regulation orders; public rights of way; and the participation of the public at planning committee meetings. There was also a discussion about the issue of confidentiality involving Cllr John Blackie.
YDNPA ELECTIONS – It has been 36 years since the Yorkshire Dales National Park had a chairman who lived in the northern part of its area, Cllr Blackie told the meeting. That was a local farmer, John Piper of West Burton. Since then no farmer has been elected as chairman and the number of farmers on the Authority has dropped to just one – Harold Brown, the chairman of Grinton parish council in Swaledale.
At that meeting the members elected Peter Charlesworth as chairman, and Harold Brown as vice chairman. Mr Charlesworth, a former judge, is a Secretary of State appointee to the Authority who has homes in Ilkley and Threshfield.
Coun Blackie asked him: “Where does Richmondshire and the people of Richmondshire figure in your approach to being chairman given that the last time we had a chairman of the national park committee or authority from Richmondshire was 1977?”
Mr Charlesworth accepted that it did give the perception that the Authority was southern orientated and said before he was elected: “All I can say is that I would be equally committed to all areas.” He added that he would continue representing the authority at parish council meetings and many of those were in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales.
Mr Brown, who was appointed by the Secretary of State as a parish council member of the Authority, told the members:“I’m home grown from Swaledale – a farmer born and bred.”
As the only farmer on the Authority he said:“Tourism in my view is the second biggest industry – farming is the first. Tourism is important but you will not have tourism without the landscape and the environment which is created and maintained by the farming community, the landowners, the gamekeepers, the quarry workers and the forestry workers.”
He emphasised the need for more affordable housing so that young families would stay in the Dales and so help keep the communities alive and stated that there were enough retirement homes already. He also wanted to see superfast broadband rolled out throughout the Dales, and the provision of more jobs. “Keeping this national park going is what people on the ground who live and work here do – and they are getting less,” he explained. And that included the farmers.
He agreed with Cllr Welch that the chairman should be an elected representative of the local communities, but added that he and Mr Charlesworth could work well together. The latter stated: “It is important to represent the park nationally because we do live in very challenging times. We must fight for adequate resources. We must make sure that the benefits of the national park are recognised nationally as well as locally. I have a passion for the Yorkshire Dales and its people.”
Mr Charlesworth said that the Authority owed Cllr Lis a huge debt of gratitude for the eight years he had been its chairman. In reply Cllr Lis said that it had been the most enjoyable job he had ever done.
RURAL GP SURGERIES – The new chairman of the Authority, Peter Charlesworth, will write to three members of Parliament and ask other National Park Authorities to lobby the government about the proposal by NHS England to phase out compensation payments to GP surgeries with low footfalls.
Cllr Blackie asked if the issue could be added to the agenda because this would lead to the loss of GP surgeries in Wensleydale and Swaledale. He said that he expected that the minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) would be withdrawn but they needed to make the government understand what impact this would have on rural and deeply rural communities.
He explained: “We cannot keep our communities going, being vibrant, being stable in the future unless young families, young people, decide to stay. You can’t have strong, self-reliant, balanced communities unless you have the GP surgeries (with) the primary care being delivered locally. What we need to do is to convince NHS England and eventually the minister that there does need to be some form of compensation payment to keep GP practices that operate in rural and deeply rural areas.”
William Weston commented: “I think it is increasingly alarming that a number of other actions taking place at a national level (are) undermining the potential for people to have a good quality of life in rural areas. I do think it disproportionately affects people in North England as well. I can see the logic of amalgamating surgeries in big cities but the lack of thought, the lack of comprehension about how these policies affect rural communities is really quite horrifying.
“We need to make the government aware of how these issues stack up. We are in the situation where people who live in rural areas will be like people who lived in quite deep slum areas of big cities in the industrial era. The government needs to wake up to the quality impacts upon rural areas.”
North Yorkshire County Councillor Shelagh Marshall was surprised that the government would take such action that would increase the loneliness and isolation of elderly people when there had been a cabinet office report on the subject. “One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” she said.
Harold Brown said that residents of communities in the Dales were getting older especially as those buying properties in places like Swaledale were often retired people.
Like Cllr Blackie, the chief executive, David Butterworth, noted that the Authority’s new management plan included the objective to safeguard the services which were essential to the long-term viability of local communities such as good access to primary health care and schools. He said that the Authority could lobby on this issue because, when preparing the management plan, it had been through the process of listening and talking to local people about what it meant to have sustainable communities.
The committee unanimously agreed that Mr Charlesworth should write to the three MPs serving the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the district councils involved, and all the Dales parish councils, asking them to lobby the government. He said he was fully supportive of this and would raise the issue with those chairing the other National Park Authorities in England.
CONFIDENTIALITY – Even though Cllr Blackie would not give an unqualified commitment that he would never again divulge confidential information to one of his constituents, a large majority of the members at the meeting refused to pillory him for doing so on compassionate grounds recently.
Ann Brooks disagreed with David Butterworth, the chief executive, when he said that he believed Cllr Blackie had given an assurance that in future any such sensitive issues would be discussed with either him or the chairman of the Authority.
Mrs Brooks stated: “I don’t think we have had an unqualified commitment from Mr Blackie. Even today he has indicated that, although it is unlikely, he could possibly do it again and I don’t think that’s the basis on which we were accepting his comment.” She wanted Cllr Blackie to give an unconditional undertaking to be bound by standing orders.
To this Ian McPherson put forward the proposal, which was accepted, that the meeting would take note of what Cllr Blackie had said and would re-affirm the principle of members complying with standing orders concerning confidentiality.
Mr Charlesworth had reported that at the last planning committee Cllr Blackie had stated that he had told one of his constituents about possible enforcement action. Mr Charlesworth said: “I’m happy to accept that Mr Blackie had the best of motives. I think possibly there was a misunderstanding because (the debate) got a bit heated.” He added that some members had got the impression that Cllr Blackie would disclose confidential information again in the future.
Cllr Blackie responded: “In planning we shouldn’t lose sight of the human element. I know what it is like to be told you have only a 30 per cent chance of survival. The last thing you want when you are trying to run a business as well is people bothering you with things you simply can’t cope with. I knew what an impact it would have on this particular constituent. I’m sorry – but I thought it was better to have a word with him. What was wrong with that? If I’m guilty – I’m guilty of caring. What I said was ‘Given that set of circumstances I would do the same tomorrow’. Sorry – I was being honest.”
The Hawes businessman had just returned home after being air-lifted to hospital with a serious heart condition and Cllr Blackie didn’t want him to suffer the shock of an enforcement officer arriving at his door concerning the new signage for his business. It has since been decided that enforcement action was inexpedient to pursue.
Cllr Blackie pointed out on Tuesday that he had attended 200 planning committee meetings and never before divulged confident information. And nor was he likely to do again.
North Yorkshire County Councillor Richard Welch asked why this issue had not been discussed in private rather than in public and added: “I don’t think this is the appropriate time.” Cllr Lis disagreed with him and emphasised the importance of abiding by the standing orders. He also wanted a definite commitment from Cllr Blackie.
North Yorkshire County Councillors Roger Harrison-Topham and Shelagh Marshall both queried what should be classified as confidential. “The maximum should be out in the public arena,” said Cllr Marshall.
TRAFFIC REGULATION ORDERS – The introduction of traffic regulations on ten green lanes in the Yorkshire Dales had been one of the Authority’s success stories, Diana Mallinson of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, told the meeting. “The condition of the routes covered by TROs has improved or been stable since the TROs were made, following natural revegetation and repairs,” she said.
This was supported by Kristin Whalley, the chairman of the CPRE in Wensleydale. She said that there had been widespread damage to the surface and structure of the lanes before the TROs were imposed. “The loss of peace and quiet, tranquillity and sense of remoteness was enormous, as was the disturbance to wildlife, birds and animals, damage to their habitat and despoliation of the streams in these areas. Now… they are a joy to walk, without alien sights, sounds and smells.”
Kathryn Beardmore, the YDNPA director of park services, reported that along seven of the ten green lanes upon which TROs had been imposed there had been a 90 per cent reduction in the level of recreational use by motor vehicles.
She recommended that, when the Authority’s staff had the time, the TRO’s on two green lanes should be lifted. This was because it had been established that Cam High Road (Far Gearstones) and Ling Gill (Old Ling to Cam End) had been found to be restricted byways along which there were no public rights for motor vehicles. Permanent TROs will be retained on the other eight green lanes – Barth Bridge to Garsdale, Carlton to Middleham High Moor, Foxup Road, Gorbeck Road, Horsehead Pass, Long Lane (Clapham to Selside), Mastiles Lane, and The High Way.
Cllr Harrison-Topham asked if more TROs could be considered as some green lanes, such as Dead Man’s Hill, were being damaged by recreational motor vehicle use.
PUBLIC RIGHTS OF WAY – Mr Butterworth described these as halcyon days when it came to having the finances to take care of public rights of way. “In 10 years (time) I suspect we won’t be at the level we are at the moment,” he said. The rights of way budget was reduced in April this year as a result of the government’s comprehensive spending review.
The rangers’ work includes monitoring 30 green lanes, repairing bridges, repairing the surface of lanes and footpaths, erecting signposts and mending stiles. In this they are assisted during the year by many volunteers who notched up 949 days of practical work and 308 days of surveying.
Nick Thwaite described the rangers and the volunteers who carried out such work as the “front line troops”. He paid tribute to the volunteers who went out in all weathers.
Alan Hulme, the head of the YDNPA’s ranger service, was congratulated on his annual report on public rights of way. In this he reported that about 90 per cent of walkers along the Three Peaks route were now using the new path across Whitber Hill rather than the seriously eroded path across Black Dub and Red Moss in Horton in Ribblesdale.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AT PLANNING COMMITTEE MEETINGS – It was agreed that the measures introduced in November to improve the procedures for public speaking at planning committee meetings had worked well.
These allow a representative of the relevant parish council or parish meeting to address the planning committee for five minutes. The total time allowed for speaking by supporters and objectors is five minutes for each side. The members noted that on occasions those either objecting or supporting an application had shared the five minutes between them. Those wishing to speak must register with the senior planning technician by 9.30am on the Friday before a planning committee meeting.
Although he accepted that the new system was an improvement on the old one as it gave objectors and supporters more time to put over their arguments, Cllr Blackie commented: “it is nowhere near as democratic as the county council.” His proposal that the Authority’s scheme should continue to be monitored and be reviewed again by the committee in a year’s time was accepted.
Article 4 Direction and the Local Plan
Richmondshire District Council (RDC) will write to Defra asking the Secretary of State to call in the decision made by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) last week to re-introduce full planning control over all barn conversions.
Both the RDC and North Yorkshire County Council had strongly objected to the YDNPA confirming an Article 4 Direction which in January 2015 will remove the permitted development rights introduced by the government last year. Those rights allow the change of use of many agricultural buildings for commercial purposes. These are separate from those whereby barns can be converted into dwellings from which the National Parks are now exempt.
Cllr Blackie told themeeting that initially the county council had not been included in the consultation about the Article 4 Direction. The meeting was informed that this was due to an administrative error.
Cllr Blackie was also concerned that so little weight had been given to the objections by the county and district councils even though these were statutory economic development authorities for the Northern part of the Yorkshire Dales.
The YDNPA is the only national park authority which has decided to introduce an Article 4 Direction even though during the consultation it received 21 objections compared to 15 letters of support.
Peter Stockton, the head of sustainable development, told the members that the recommendation to go ahead had been influenced by the comments received.
Ann Brooks stated: “We are charged with looking after this national park. To allow development without the advice and support from the planning department would lead to some developments which would damage our landscape, and it is the landscape which makes us what we are.
“We are not in the business of saying no but we should make careful and considered decisions.” She quoted the figures supplied by the Authority’s planning policy officer, Tom Harland, that between 2006 and 2013 permission had been granted for 24 of the 27 applications to convert barns to commercial use. He reported that although the Authority had a generally supportive policy towards commercial conversions the take-up had been disappointing.
He added: “There is little evidence that the planning system is creating a significant barrier to proposals coming forward.”
A few members, including Cllr Harrison-Topham, stated, however, that obstacles were being put in the way of applicants and applications were being stifled. He disagreed with William Weston who wanted the Authority to return to the system that existed before May 2013. Mr Weston commented: “We should maintain the status quo otherwise we don’t have control. You can see the difference outside the National Parks in areas that are not protected and are over developed.”
Cllr Harrison-Topham warned: “I think we are sending the wrong message – that we are a bunch of control freaks.” He argued that only the barns close to roads, hamlets or villages would be suitable for commercial use and so those in open countryside would not be affected.
As the only member of the committee still active in farming Harold Brown said: “I am vehemently against this (Article 4 Direction) and so are my farming friends and they maintain this place and have done for generations before (there was a) national park. The younger generation of farmers are becoming disillusioned with farming – it is much more difficult in a protected area.”
Cllr Blackie told the committee that a young farmer in Wensleydale had wanted to use the new permitted development rights to convert a barn near a main road for commercial use but was told by the planning officer that would not be possible. He added that the most underhand tactics had then been used to prevent that going ahead – even though the Article 4 Direction not yet been introduced.
He said it was only due to the persistence of the farmer and the support of the local parish council and himself, as well as a letter from William Hague MP, which had led to the Authority accepting the change of use of the barn.
To him and to Cllr Gardner, the Article 4 Direction was anti-community. “If we are not careful we will not have vibrant sustainable communities in the future. As you come down Swaledale the schools are closing – the shops are closed,” Coun Blackie said.
He was concerned that the new Local Plan, which will include greater flexibility for barn conversions both for commercial use and also into local occupancy homes, might be delayed. “Many local people are waiting for that greater flexibility,” he explained.
Mrs Brooks assured him the Authority was on course for producing the Local Plan by 2015. At the meeting the officers working on the new plan were given permission to explore the legal, financial and practical implications of charging a “conservation levy” in lieu of a local occupancy restriction on some residential barn conversion schemes.
Graham Dalton was concerned that such a policy could undermine the local occupancy agreements. He said that in Dent local occupancy agreements had led to newly built houses being occupied every day of the year and that helped to sustain the community. He believed it was important to have local occupancy agreements on any barn conversions as well.
Cllr Blackie’s proposal that the consultation on the Local Plan should also include the policy of restricting new build local affordable houses to 90 square metres per unit was accepted.
Corporate and Action Plans and the Budget
The continuing cuts in the Defra grants to the YDNPA (£1.6 million since 2010) with even more expected, could mean that the Authority will have deficits of £98,000 for the year 2015/16 and £184,000 in that of 2016/17.
Cllr Roberts described the cuts as quite frightening and he asked how that would affect the level of staffing.
David Butterworth, the chief executive, said that they tried to keep the cost of staffing at 70 per cent of the budget. The cuts could lead to that percentage increasing but he added: “If we are not successful in finding funding we will cut staff in order to get down to 70 per cent.”
Cllr Blackie commented that the organisation’s staff was too valuable. Peter Charlesworth said that, as the chairman of the Authority, he would do all he could to lobby the government and others concerning the cuts in grants and to find additional funding.
When discussing income generation Mr Butterworth warned that if the cost of parking at the National Parks’s car parks was raised too much people would not use them. The programmes with which the Authority will either make limited progress or only do sufficient to meet a statutory duty during the next year will include retail.
Its key priorities will be biodiversity, farm conservation, rights of way, volunteers, web-based services and the sustainable development fund.
It was agreed that there should be no change in the scheme of members’ allowances.
Priorities and sustainable communities:
Local authorities must co-operate to stop the exodus of young people from the Yorkshire Dales, Cllr Blackie told members.
This meant, he said, that strategic planning could not be put to the bottom of the Authority’s priority list. If it was the Authority would not be in a position to work with neighbouring authorities to solve the social and demographic issues facing rural areas such as the provision of affordable housing.
Cllr Blackie told the meeting that there had been a drop of over 50 per cent in the number of children attending schools in Swaledale and probably 50 families had left the Askrigg and Bainbridge area in Wensleydale in the last 15 years.
“This isn’t just a normal outflow of young people and young families from the Dales – it is now becoming an exodus,” he warned. The key issues were the lack of affordable housing, employment opportunities and premises suitable for those who were self-employed he said.
Cllr Blackie proposed that strategic planning should replace something else in the top tier but other members didn’t want to move the Volunteering and Apprentices, Development Management, Land Management and Biodiversity or the Rights of Way programmes down the priority ratings. They agreed instead to move Strategic Plans up from the limited to adequate priority list.
David Butterworth, the chief executive, reminded members that they had to prioritise the work undertaken by the Authority’s staff because by the budget would continue to shrink with a difference in funding between 2010 and 2017 of £1.8m in cash terms.
Local Plan and Housing:
A selective review of the housing development plan will be carried out even if that holds up the production of the new Local Plan by six months.
Peter Stockton, the head of sustainable development, reported that the 2011 census provided the stark and extraordinary statistic that although the number of dwellings in the National Park had increased by just over 1,000 in ten years the Park’s population had grown by only 100 because there were so many second homes and holiday homes. The number of families living in the Yorkshire Dales had decreased by 15 per cent.
He said that the housing development plan was a fundamental part of the Authority’s objective to support the viability of communities in the Yorkshire Dales.
But it was proving very difficult to reach the objective of 30 new houses a year and that could lead to the planning inspectors deciding that the new local plan was unsound.
Meeting those objectives was going to be even harder now that the government’s Homes and Community Agency (HCA) had removed grant aid from mixed housing sites like those planned for the National Park. And the government was now considering removing all requirements for affordable housing on residential developments in England of 10 or less.
“This will blow our housing policy out of the water. This government doesn’t understand the issues in rural areas,” commented Coun Blackie.
Members agreed that the Authority had to re-evaluate not only the criteria for local occupancy (including S106 legal agreements) but also the definition of affordable housing as well as reconsidering the 90sqm restriction on the size of new houses.
In addition they agreed with Cllr Blackie’s proposal that the YDNPA should, in partnership with county and district councils, undertake a light touch review of the commissioning and funding of affordable housing by public authorities.The review will include consulting with those who provide mortgages as these were asking for 50 per cent deposits on dwellings on which there were S106 agreements putting them beyond the reach of many young families.
“This is a crisis – we must find another way by working with other authorities,” Cllr Blackie argued.
Richmondshire District Councillor Stuart Parsons said that the problem of providing affordable housing should be discussed with the RDC as there was a site just across the border of the National Park. “The RDC could borrow quite a lot of money to build houses,” he explained.
The planning department will soon start charging for some pre-application advice. “This is about income generation to try and replace the grants lost,” explained Mr Butterworth.
There will be no charge for householder development or for the planning surgeries at the YDNPA’s offices at Grassington and Bainbridge. But for written advice concerning a major development the cost will be £150, and £300 if a planning officer has to make a site visit. The scale of fees drops to £50 for a small scale development which does not require a site visit.
There will be a charge of £22.50 for a written response to someone submitting an enquiry form concerning permitted development. The plan-checking service will no longer be free with fees ranging from £10 for householders up to £45 for major developments.
Richard Graham, head of development management, explained that all neighbouring authorities now charge for planning services. “The intention is not to recover the full cost – just some of it,” he said. He believed that such fees could generate £10,000 to £18,000 a year for a service which costs about £350,000 annually.
Cllr Marshall emphasised the importance of providing written advice to those who paid fees. There had been times, she said, when applicants had followed the verbal advice given by planning officers only to have their applications refused.
Cllr Parsons wondered if there could be a higher charge for retrospective planning applications. Mr Graham responded that the schedule of charges was based upon the actual costs and not as a penalty. He added that retrospective planning applications were usually submitted because of the threat of enforcement.
When asked after the meeting about when the charges would be introduced Mr Graham said: “I can’t give a precise date at present as there is a significant amount of work that now needs to be done on establishing internal procedures, various standard documents, a database etc, as well as informing our customers of the changes. However I hope that it will be possible to complete this work and introduce the service at the beginning of November.”
Government consultation on extending permitted development rights:
The Authority will strongly object to some of the changes to permitted development rights being proposed by the government.
Coun Blackie said: “I was horrified about the (proposed) change of use from light industrial buildings and storage and distribution to dwellings because it has the potential to completely wipe out (our) business parks – and we fought long and hard to get them.”
Any dwellings created in that way could be sold on the open market. Mr Graham reported that when the government brought in the temporary permitted development right concerning offices 11 out of the 29 offices in the National Park were converted. Without any affordable or local occupancy requirements they could become second, retirement or holiday homes.
Mr Graham explained that the introduction of some permitted development rights could have a harmful impact not only upon the landscape of the National Park but also upon the economic and social well-being of local communities.
It was agreed to object to the following proposals:
- new permitted development rights to change from light industrial buildings and storage and distribution to dwellings;
- making permanent the temporary permitted development right to change the use of offices to dwellings;
- widening the shops use class to include uses from the financial and professional services class;
- to allow change of use from shops and financial and professional services to restaurants and cafes;
- and to allow installation of solar pv arrays to a capacity of 1 MW on roofs of non-domestic buildings, excluding roof slopes facing the highway).
When he heard that the solar panel arrays could be 20 times as large as those permitted at present Cllr Lis exclaimed: “How did anyone in higher authority decide that? It’s crackers.”
It was pointed out that all such large arrays of solar panels would be visible wherever they were located in the National Park.
Tour de France:
Kathryn Beardmore, director of park services, was warmly congratulated on all she had done to help make the Tour de France weekend such a success. She in turn thanked all those who had assisted in that. “Everyone pulled out all the stops,” she commented.
She reported that there had been a mixed response from businesses after the event especially as the number of visitors was not as high as predicted.
Cllr Roberts remarked: “The Welcome to Yorkshire model was too high and there were businesses which suffered because they catered for too many people.”
He agreed that more cyclists were now visiting the National Park but said that advance notice should be given when large groups planned to come.
Cllr Harrison-Topham warned that the tolerance of local people could be pushed to its limits and added that many residents hoped there would not be such a large cycling event in the Dales within the next 10 years.
Residents in Grinton, according to Harold Brown, are still searching ebay to try and locate the TdF banners which were stolen from the village.
Issues discussed: the proposed creation of “National Park Enterprises Ltd” to find commercial sponsorship for the UK National Parks; problems with the provision of affordable housing; and the creation of parish council forums. There was also a presentation by Paul Hamblin, executive director of National Parks England. The concerns of the Association of Rural Communities (ARC) are reported in a separate post.
“National Park Enterprises Ltd”
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has agreed to give £10,000 towards the creation of a limited by guarantee company whose objective will be to find commercial sponsorship for the 15 National Park Authorities (NPAs) in the UK.
If the NPAs succeed in setting up “National Park Enterprises Ltd” it will be the trading and fundraising entity of National Parks UK, and will begin with £150,000 of funding.
David Butterworth, the YDNPA chief executive, told members that the maximum investment that each NPA would make would be £20,000. He explained that the YDNPA was faced with even further budget cuts in addition to having seen its income drop by over 40 per cent in real terms in the last few years.
He told members: “I believe it’s quite a brave approach (but) in spite of the risks the financial situation of National Parks and National Park Authorities is so serious that this initiative has to be given a chance.”
He said that the setting up of such a company had been professionally researched and the business case suggested that a profit of £1.4 million should be achievable by the end of year four which would be shared equally between the 15 NPAs.
He hoped that there would be even greater profits in subsequent years but added:“You will have to wait until year four before you see anything – so don’t think it is going to be a quick fix. Are we willing to gamble an initial £10,000 with potentially another £10,000? The 15 National Park Authorities have said things are so serious now that it’s worth the gamble.”
North Yorkshire County Councillor Robert Heseltine commented: “This is a gamble – should we be gambling with public money?” He didn’t feel they had sufficient information yet to substantiate that gamble.
Other members asked how the directors for the company would be selected and who would take care of the day-to-day running of it.
Mr Butterworth said that the company will be run by a board of directors, with not less than three and not more than seven directors. It has been proposed that four of the directors will be appointed by the NPAs with all their officers and members being eligible to apply. Once appointed they will be responsible to the company rather than the NPA from which they have come from.
He explained that the other three Directors will be “independent” and will be appointed for their knowledge, skills, experience and connections. They are likely to be appointed by the four NPA directors.
At the beginning it is likely that a company will be contracted to do the day-to-day work and he added: “There are all sorts of problems when you are employing staff and it’s much easier, particularly from the outset, just to give a contract. But the final decision has not been taken.”
When asked if the environmental credentials of sponsors would be vetted Mr Butterworth replied that there had been a debate about who and who not to do business with or to accept sponsorship from and added:“I think the starting point has to be – we will do business with anyone unless after assessment they damage the brand that is the National Parks.”
He had reported that the National Parks Foundation in the USA, whose commercial partners range from Google to Disney, was a potential model for the new company.
Cllr Harrison-Topham commented: “There is an enormous difference between American national parks which are almost invariably State owned land and our national parks which are almost entirely privately owned. Whether that distinction is going to be important in the long run I don’t know.
“I would be pleasantly surprised if this goes ahead if, in the next five years, there are not a few articles in Private Eye.”
Cllr Roberts, however, said: “I think this has got to happen. We have a tremendous brand – the country’s breathing spaces.”
The brand “Britain’s Breathing Spaces” has been trademarked by Dartmoor NPA on behalf of all UK NPAs.
The majority at the meeting agreed with Mr Butterworth’s recommendation that the Authority should become a member of “National Park Enterprises Ltd” and that he, in consultation with the chairman, Peter Charlesworth, should be authorised to complete the necessary documentation to do this.
The YDNPA’s housing policy has been blown out of the water by the government’s introduction of a threshold on Section 106 affordable housing contributions. Within the National Parks the threshold is now five homes on one site, and outside the cut off for contributions will be anything below 10 dwellings per site.
In a statement to the meeting Cllr Blackie said that Richmondshire District Council (RDC) will lose the potential of providing 270 homes.
The RDC, of which he is the leader, expects to lose £6 million over the next 15 years for its affordable housing programme and that, he said, would affect another £6 million that could have been expected in matched funding by housing associations from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
This will also have a detrimental impact upon schools, post offices and shops and so jeopardise the future viability of rural and deeply rural communities. “We could be just a generation or two away from their complete collapse,” he stated. He pledged the RDC’s commitment to the partnership with the YDNPA to work together to try and overcome such a doomsday scenario.
David Butterworth, the YDNPA chief executive, described the RDC response to the letters the Authority had sent to neighbouring councils as useful because it did not stipulate how its financial contribution (£2,500 or £5,000 if the YDNPA was prepared to match it) should be spent.
Both he and Peter Stockton, the YDNPA head of sustainable development, said they would prefer to spend it on ensuring the provision of affordable housing in Wensleydale and Swaledale. Mr Stockton reported that the YDNPA might have to change its policy regarding the mix of affordable and local market housing on the sites which had been allocated to ensure that they would be viable.
There was also pressure to increase the housing density on the sites especially as there was now a higher demand for small homes partly due to the introduction of the “bedroom tax”. He added that to assist with the provision of affordable housing more people needed to register their interest in it with their local councils.
It was agreed that the officers should continue to work with partners in district councils and other appropriate bodies to remove the barriers to providing affordable and local needs housing in the National Park, and that the funding provided by the RDC should be used to assess the opportunity for delivering housing sites in the Richmondshire area of the Yorkshire Dales.
Parish council forums
It was agreed to set up two parish forums, one in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales and the other in the South. Each will meet twice a year.
These will replace the parish council initiative whereby members of the Authority attended parish council meetings. Members felt that this initiative had worked well but it was time to move on.
Mr Butterworth said that he expected that he, the head of development management, and the director of conservation and community would attend the parish forums. “We need to hear what’s happening in parishes and what the issues are so that it becomes much more of a joint approach,” he said.
He explained that such forums had been successful in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and had led to a closer, more informal working relationship with parish councils. He added that the four parish council members of the Authority had a key role to play in this.
One of those parish council members, Ian McPherson, was pleased that Mr Butterworth had confirmed that parish council members were elected representatives and said: “I think it’s absolutely crucial that we don’t cut off our connection with the grassroots people in the Dales, the people who live here and the parish councils that represent them.”
Natural Parks England
Paul Hamblin, the executive director of National Parks England (NPE), addressed the meeting and answered questions about this non-profit company to which the YDNPA pays an annual membership subscription of £17,910.
The impression he gave was of a high-powered lobby group for the ten National Park Authorities in England for he stated that the NPE was meeting with people at the highest level to raise awareness and understanding about the work of the National Parks.
He told members that its aim was to improve understanding about the National Parks and to make sure that the powers that be – those who are writing the cheques – were inspired by the work of the National Park Authorities.
He wanted to see that translated into continuous support in a variety of ways for the National Park purposes. To do that the NPE works closely with the Campaign for National Parks and National Parks UK.
The NPE provides a secretariat for the all-party parliamentary group on National Parks and briefs its members on the activities of the National Park Authorities.
He was disappointed at the threshold decision regarding affordable housing. By working together, he said, they had got the threshold reduced for National Parks but it still was not good enough.
One of its most important activities, Mr Hamblin said, was to get politicians and civil servants to visit the National Parks – “to see the places themselves, and hear from your officers about the work that is going on and about peoples’ priorities.”
There was a need he explained to make sure that other government departments in addition to Defra understood and recognised the contribution that the National Parks were making. And they were trying to access funds from those other departments, such as from the Ministry of Transport.
“Successive governments have needed to get a lot better at how they understand their decisions affect rural areas as a whole,” he said. And with the 10 NPAs covering just under 10 per cent of the country they were a good place to go to for expert advice.
As an illustration he explained that they had sought to demonstrate that work on upper catchments had a direct bearing on flooding in urban areas.
“We pull together research, demonstrate the value of National Parks both to the economy and to peoples’ wellbeing across the family of 10 National Parks. We can demonstrate the economic stability within (these),” he said referring to the report “Valuing England’s National Parks” published in May 2013.
In this it was stated that the Gross Value Added (GVA) of England’s National Parks was comparable to that of the UK aerospace sector.
Camping and Caravanning
The Association of Rural Communities (ARC) is very concerned about the future of traditional camping and caravanning in the Yorkshire Dales, especially after what happened at Westholme, Aysgarth. That was why, in its response last year to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s (YDNPA) consultation on its draft Local Plan, it stated that a policy of supporting “glamping” without any safeguards for those would be immoral and anti-social. The full text of its statement to the Full Authority meeting of the YDNPA in December 2014 is included in this post along with the debate about allowing officers, under delegated powers, to again make many decisions about camping and caravanning sites in the Yorkshire Dales.
In its response to the Local Plan consultation ARC stated: “There seems to be an emphasis upon encouraging “glamping” rather than traditional camping. If the Local Plan does not take a firm stance in support of those who can only afford traditional camping (in those brightly coloured tents!) then it will not be possible to protect the provision of that affordable accommodation when camp site owners apply to change to yurts, camping pods etc. And yet again there will be a move towards the National Park being a refuge for the rich or better off sections of society.
“The same applies regarding static caravans versus timber lodges. The site at Westholme showed how quickly a caravan site which catered for those on lower incomes could be turned into a luxury lodge site.
“It seems that the YDNPA continues to follow a policy in favour of the rich rather than the poor on the basis that timber lodges and camping pods look nicer in the National Park than the humble tent or static caravan.
“This policy is immoral and anti-social and is completely contrary to the aim of the National Park to encourage people of all backgrounds to visit the Yorkshire Dales.”
It was due to these concerns that Stephen Butcher, on behalf of the Association, made the following statement at the YDNPA Full Authority meeting:
“At the September meeting of the planning committee members queried the need for all applications concerning caravan and tent sites to be considered by them rather than being dealt with by officers under delegated powers.
“Back in December 2009 the Association of Rural Communities informed the planning committee that over 60 pitches for touring caravans and tents had been lost at Westholme, Aysgarth, due to a decision made under delegated powers by an officer. When considering that decision the planning officer, Richard Graham, wrote : ‘If it is still to be used for camping or for touring caravans, the improvement In the visual and landscape terms from some additional tree planting on the application site would hardly be ‘significant’ – there will still be brightly coloured tents.’
“The planning committee had been completely unaware that decision had been made. It led to the loss of an important Duke of Edinburgh scheme camping site – and that scheme brings about 2,000 youngsters to the Yorkshire Dales each year.
“And Westholme is now a luxury holiday park with the lodges costing over £250,000 each.
“In 2009 the planning committee refused an application for 18 touring pitches to be replaced with 14 static pitches at Honeycott Caravan Park, Hawes, and that went to appeal. The appeal inspector upheld the Authority’s decision and stated:’I agree with the National Park Authority that a reduction in the availability of touring caravan and tent sites would be contrary to the statutory purpose to enable people to understand and enjoy the special qualities of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.’
“ The appeal inspector reported that in recent years there had been a loss of approximately 200 touring caravan pitches in Upper Wensleydale. In its own report on that appeal the Authority stated: ‘Notwithstanding the absence of adopted planning policy against replacement of touring/camping pitches, the Inspector has given weight to evidence concerning the desirability of maintaining a balance between different forms of visitor accommodation, in the interests of the statutory purposes of the National Park Authority.’
“Following that the Authority decided that all applications regarding camping and caravan sites must be considered by the planning committee.
“This Association is very far from convinced that the proposed new local plan will ensure the protection of tent and touring caravan holiday pitches. In the draft local plan ‘glamping’ is permitted and as well as replacing static caravans with chalets. The latter is but one step away from the luxury lodges of Westholme.
“In these circumstances the draft local plan must include strong safeguards for low-cost camping and touring caravan pitches. And this Association believes the Authority must ensure that any applications regarding camping and caravan sites in the National Park will continue to be brought to the planning committee.”
Cllr Harrison-Topham commented that such public statements were always very interesting and important but the Authority itself did not provide a record of these, nor any response that was made to them. He asked that more should be available in the electronic domain.
The chairman of the Authority, Peter Charlesworth, said that would be looked into and the ARC statement would be included in the consultation on the new Local Plan.
He explained to the committee that the recommendation by officers to no longer refer all decisions about caravan and camping sites to the planning committee had come about because a number of minor and inconsequential applications had been made over the last few years and the members of that committee had queried the need for that
In the debate on the review of the scheme of delegation to committees and officers he reminded members that officers, before exercising delegated powers, had to consider whether it was more appropriate to refer an issue or an application to a committee.
Of the head of development management, Mr Graham, he stated: “You would have to trust him that if it was of sufficient seriousness to go before the committee as he does on many other planning matters.”
Cllr Roberts added that applications would be referred to the planning committee if an Authority member requested that, or if a parish council had objected.
And Chris Armitage commented:“We still have concerns but the problems are not quite as stark as (before). I think there are sufficient safeguards under delegated powers.”
He believed the planning department and the head of development management were sensible and would bring anything controversial to the planning committee and added:“There might be one in a hundred cases which slips through that we think oh we wish that hadn’t happened. Let’s not bring everything to the committee just in case there’s something we don’t like. “
Cllr Harrison-Topham, however, felt that all applications concerning caravan and camping sites should continue to be referred to that committee. “I think this caravan business is open to abuse,” he explained.
To this Cllr Heseltine added: “In the past there were safeguards in place and maybe members weren’t up to speed at calling things in and making officers aware of that.”
The chairman of the planning committee, Harold Brown, said that all such applications had been referred to committee because “Westholme and Chantry … were kicking the tourists out and replacing them with statics and they were getting away with it. The safeguards are there – it’s not going to slip through and it shouldn’t have done in the past.”
He and several other members said that the majority of these applications could now be dealt with by officers under delegated powers. And this was accepted by the majority of the members.
And so the onus is back on parish councils, parish meetings and Members of the Authority to keep a check on the applications made by camping and caravanning sites in the Yorkshire Dales.