An ARC News Service report on the full Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) meeting on March 31. The main agenda items were on how the Authority could generate sufficient income to offset the heavy cuts in its core grant from the government including the introduction of a 20p charge to use the public toilets at the YDNPA’s car park in Grassington, and the possibility of having a cafe at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Other issues discussed included the newly-formed Destination Dales Group, and if the Yorkshire Dales Society should be consulted on all planning applications.
As at the YDNPA planning committee on March 10 a one minute’s silence was held in memory of John Roberts who died suddenly on March 8. The chairman of the Authority, Peter Charlesworth, in his tribute stated: “He was a very much valued member and made an immense contribution to the National Park. He gave respect to all of us and he was respected. He was a very popular member.”
A matter of survival?
The YDNPA must undergo a major organisational and cultural change if it is to survive the drastic cuts in its government grants, the chief executive, David Butterworth, told members.
He reported that its core grant been reduced by 40 per cent in real terms since 2010 which was a higher cut than any imposed upon local authorities. He stated: “We are now in a position where we either: cut our objectives and work programmes in line with the new financial realities; or, we change the way we operate – putting a greater emphasis on finding and using other (‘external’) sources of funding to deliver our objectives.”
He asked all those involved with the Authority – its staff, members and volunteers – to be involved in this. And he stated: “Securing ‘unrestricted’ income (as opposed to income that can only be spent on specific activity) is going to be increasingly important as our core grant shrinks.“
Projects that deliver our objectives and contribute to supporting our existing staff costs and running costs will be increasingly important to our survival. This reality is part of the cultural shift that has to take place in the Authority.”
That reality was clearly outlined by Richard Burnett, the director of corporate services, when presenting what he described as the transitional budget for 2015/16. Following the cuts in the Authority’s core grant it had been estimated that the deficit for this year would be £125,000. This had been resolved by the Authority having put aside a reserve from unbudgeted savings and by generating income through introducing new charges.
But there was always the likelihood of additional cuts and it could become increasingly difficult for the Authority to balance the books. If there are significant grant cuts in the next few years the Authority may have to reduce its staff numbers by 24 per cent.
One impact of these financial restraints is that the publication of the new Local Plan has been put back until Spring 2016. This also allows for a selective review of the plan to find ways to increase the provision of new housing in the Dales.
Both he and Mr Butterworth said that the budget would be reviewed later this year when the following were known: how successful the Authority has been in generating more income; the attitude of the new government towards National Parks; and if a decision has been made concerning the proposed boundary extensions.
That 38 degrees petition
When presenting the draft of the Authority’s fund raising strategy Mr Butterworth stated that the only agenda the civil servants in Defra had now was how to make cuts.
He added: “The only time the civil servants and ministers take any notice is when they think they might be threatened or embarrassed. So the recent 38 degrees petition – with 200,000 calling for no more cuts for National Park Authorities – caused some ructions. They sat up and took notice of that.”
The Authority’s fundraising strategy, he said, included seeking to secure grants from such agencies as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Local Enterprise Partnership, and charging for services and trading activity. The Authority is trialling an eBay shop for online sales as well as considering a café franchise at the Dales Countryside Museum (see below).
Judith Donovan said that it should be called an income generating strategy as fund raising implied charitable purposes. Even sponsorship, she explained, should be listed as commercial and not charitable. “We need to actively go out and aggressively pursue some of these,” she added.
Mr Butterworth warned that the Authority owned very little land compared to some other National Parks. And the value of the land might be insignificant compared to the cost of the consultation process and marketing it.
Each year some of that land would be sold so as to save the high cost of staff managing those assets, he added. “I’m calling them assets but that’s really pushing it,” he commented. The Authority would prefer to find like-minded groups which would take on those pieces of land. If that was not possible they would be sold on the open market.
Public toilets at Grassington
The members agreed that turnstiles should be installed at the public toilets in the National Park’s car park at Grassington and that there would be a 20p charge to enter them. This will be part o f a two-year trial to find the best way to bring in some income which will help with the maintenance of the ten public toilets owned by the YDNPA.
As part of that trial a donation box will be installed at those beside the information centre at Aysgarth Falls to see which method brings in the most funds.
It will cost £9,000 to install the turnstiles at Grassington public toilets which may take two years to recoup as it is expected that the usage of those facilities will drop by 50 per cent once charges are introduced. The installation of an honesty box at Aysgarth Falls will cost £500.
Mr Butterworth told the meeting that the government cuts since 2011 had left the Authority in a difficult position. Some programmes had ended and others had been substantially reduced.
It was likely there will be further cuts and so the Authority had to find new income streams to maintain existing services. Without the additional income it was likely that several public toilets would be closed, he said.
Of the turnstile system he commented: “If this can’t work at Grassington it can’t work anywhere.”
The leader of Richmondshire District Council (RDC), councillor John Blackie agreed with him. He reported that the RDC might well have to introduce charges at the seven public toilets that it owns in the National Park. “It is very expensive to maintain public toilets,” he said.
In her report the Kathryn Beardmore, director of park services, stated: “Anything that could be perceived to put Grassington businesses at a disadvantage or cause problems for the local community will, understandably, not go down well.
“However, it is suggested that charging is undertaken on a trial basis, and part of the trial will be to assess the overall impact on the village and the local community. It is suggested that this be done in conjunction with Grassington parish council.”
Cafe at the Dales Countryside Museum
It was agreed that the business community and the parish council at Hawes should be consulted about establishing a café franchise at the Dales Countryside Museum (DCM).
Ms Beardmore outlined this income-generating project to the committee and added that they could not be sure anyone would apply for a café franchise at the museum. “If nobody wants to run it – it falls by the wayside,” she said.
Cllr Blackie reminded the committee of the negative response from the Hawes business community when such an idea was put forward in 2008. “The concern then and will be now (is) that if we are not careful in Hawes we will end up with a town with two ends and no centre in terms of the private business economy.” Visitors, he said might drive to the Wensleydale Creamery and the museum and not bother to walk into town.
Mrs Donovan commented: “It’s very important that we do share with the local business community our plans for development.
“When I first joined the Authority I was asked to do a consultant’s report on the DCM which at the time was turning in some pretty appalling numbers. Only about one in ten people who walked into that building was actually paying money to visit it and therefore we had a very under-exploited asset.”
The Authority had invested in developing the museum since then and was now showing an increase in visitors, she said, but it was not yet providing the range of facilities it was supposed to do as a museum.
Mrs Donovan told the meeting: “Success breeds success – the more facilities we can offer visitors the more visitors will come and the longer they will stay. This will benefit all the businesses in Hawes.”
She explained that the key part of the DCM’s revenue comes from business to business – meetings, conferences and events. But one business had recently cancelled two bookings at the DCM because of the lack of food facilities.
“This is not about one café in Hawes making money at the expense of another. This is about people taking their business to another location,” she said.
The DCM manager, Fiona Rosher, told the meeting that the Yorkshire Dales Mining Museum (YDMM) at Earby had offered them that part of its collection which relates to the Yorkshire Dales.
The YDMM, which will close this summer, has over the past 50 years put together an extensive collection of materials relating to mining in the Dales between 1750 and 1910.
Julie Martin, the YDNPA member champion for cultural heritage, agreed with Mrs Rosher that part of such a collection would be a great asset to the DCM. She said: “The collection pertains to one of the most distinctive aspects of the dales landscape, its culture and its natural heritage and I believe there are no other similar collections.”
It was agreed that the offer should be accepted along with any assistance towards the cost of integrating the collection into that at the DCM. Grants will also be sought.
Andrew Colley asked if the collection could later go on tour to Hebden and Grassington as both these towns had had significant mining industries.
Charitable status for the Dales Countryside Museum?
Cllr Blackie asked if the DCM could become a charitable trust as that could mean saving up to £38,000 a year. At present the DCM pays that much in business rates. If it was a charity this would be immediately reduced by 80 per cent and there was the possibility of the rates being dropped to zero per cent.
“We are going to be facing yet more cuts – it’s just how severe they are. One way of perhaps saving some vitally important money would be to see if we can make the DCM a charity,” he said.
Mr Butterworth replied that Ms Beardmore had been asked to research this and the committee would discuss it later in the year.
Destination Dales Group
Ms Beardmore presented a report on the creation of the Destination Dales Group (DDG) in February which has replaced the Dales Tourism Partnership.
The DDG is an advisory body of organisations and tourism businesses in the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale who will work collaboratively to help guide the development of tourism in the Dales.
It is chaired by Mrs Donovan who is the Authority’s member champion for promoting understanding. The Authority provides the secretariat for the group with the help of the Nidderdale Area of Natural Beauty.
Mrs Donovan said: “This recognises that the majority of businesses in the National Park are small businesses. What they need more than anything is business and marketing advice to sell themselves.
“It is not our job to market the Dales to consumers and businesses. It is our job to support businesses in the Park who are themselves selling to businesses and we want to help them do it better. “
Yorkshire Dales Society
North Yorkshire County councillor Richard Welch told the meeting that according to the latest Yorkshire Dales Review the Yorkshire Dales Society (YDS) was now on the list of consultees for all planning applications submitted to the YDNPA. He commented:
“With all due respect this (Society) is self-appointed, self-opinionated and unaccountable to anybody. It’s a lobby group.” He asked if it was fair for this Society to be consulted on all planning applications.
Mr Butterworth responded that it was fair and right that any individual or any organisation who wanted to comment on any application could do so, even if it was a lobby group. “We want to be open and transparent and we should be open to scrutiny and challenge.”
Cllr Welch replied: “I fully agree about openness and transparency but they are blatantly, in their magazine, saying they are consultees. That puts them on a par with parish councils, the Highways Authority, and others. This gives the impression of superiority and that they are consulted on everything.”
Chris Armitage, who is a member of the YDS, responded that there was no suggestion that the Society was on the statutory consultee list alongside the parish councils and the Highways Authority.
Peter Charlesworth, the chairman of the Authority, said: “We will look to see if there is a list in the planning department of those who are consulted – a “secret” list – and we will make it un-secret.”
Ian MacPherson asked that the results of the inquiry be made known to all the members.