The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) not only needs a Local Plan which includes all the new areas added in August 2016 but must also commission its own socio-economic study.
“Our policy making and our decision making is only as robust as the evidence on which it relies. The evidence we have available is based upon assumptions, analogies and anecdotes,” Jocelyn Manners-Armstrong said at the YDNPA’s Full Authority meeting on Tuesday December 18.
Peter Stockton, the Authority’s head of sustainable development, told the meeting: “In the past we sort of begged, borrowed and stole the evidence from our district [council] colleagues and it never quite fitted with our own planning area. The problem is that it is skewed to the towns outside [the park]. So we never quite got that deep rural information that we needed. We don’t really know how many people live in each district of the National Park.
Approval was given for the Authority to commission an independent socio-economic study of the National Park to provide baseline facts for a new Local Plan and also for the review of the present one.
Mr Stockton commented: “Generally speaking Local Plans are worth tens of millions of pounds … to developers, landowners and to people who are making use of the infrastructure and the development that needs undertaking.”
He explained that when the boundary was extended the YDNPA inherited seven local plans some of which were out of date. During the Full Authority meeting on Tuesday the Eden District Local Plan was adopted.
But members decided that the Authority must now begin preparing a new, single Local Plan for the whole of the National Park.
Mr Stockton reported: “Within the new parts of the National Park (especially Eden) there may be a perception of unnecessary and additional bureaucracy being ‘imposed’. It is also by far the most expensive and resource-intensive option.”
As several specialist consultancies (including the socio-economic one) would be needed he added: “The costs are likely to be significantly higher than the current budget projections for the ‘Development Planning’ programme.”
Nor did the planning department have sufficient staff to carry out all the work required to get the new Local Plan adopted within three to four years. His proposal that a senior policy and performance officer should be employed to assist with this was accepted.
Member Chris Clark said: “It now seems sensible to have one plan rather than several. We need it to breathe life into the vision we have come up with in our Management Plan.”
He argued for a wide-ranging socio-economic study to provide benchmarks for a park-wide Local Plan and added: “There will be costs and there will be a significant amount of time and staff resources required but to me that is where we need to start this planning policy.”
The socio-economic study, he said, would provide a solid foundation for robust decisions and would set the options for long term strategy.
North Yorkshire County councillor John Blackie warned that the Authority needed to find consultants who understood deeply rural areas and that even more resources could be required if the Authority was going to produce such a Local Plan within four years.
Both he and Lancashire County councillor Cosima Towneley asked that the county councils (North Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria) should be consulted, as well as the district councils and Lancashire City Council, as the former provided so many important services such as transport, schools, health and social care. It was agreed to amend Mr Stockton’s report accordingly.
In March Mr Stockton will report to the Full Authority about the commissioning of the socio-economic report.
In September 2016 the Association of Rural Communities asked Richard Graham, the head of development management, if additional staff would be required following the boundary extension. He replied:
“The number of planning staff has not increased since 1st August. The additional work generated by the enlargement of the Park has been dealt with by officers working additional hours. The Finance and Resources Committee has approved a reorganisation of the Authority which includes some additional resources for Development Management in technical support, minerals planning and planning enforcement.”