The Association of Rural Communities stands for local democracy in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and consistency in planning decisions.
It was founded in 1995 during a period of intense anger against what was then the Yorkshire Dales National Park committee and its chairman at that time, Cllr Robert Heseltine.
People wanted to see more consistency and fairness in planning decisions, and more democracy and accountability. One of the Association’s prime objectives was to work for the economic and social well-being of those living and working in this national park. This was added to the purposes of national parks by 1997 – but is so very important today when the rule of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) quango has been extended to include more districts in Cumbria and Lancashire.
The Association campaigned for secret ballots and limited terms of office for the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the YDNPA – and that was finally introduced in November 1999. Before that they were elected by a show of hands, and Cllr Heseltine had been chairman for 11 years.
Members of the Association’s committee have monitored the YDNPA planning committee meetings since the late 1990s. Back then the Association called for applicants and objectors to have the right to address the planning committee – something which is now accepted practice.
The Association has questioned the YDNPA about other inconsistencies over the years, and in 2001 even pointed out that the members of the Authority’s planning committee should be provided each month with the minutes of past meetings so that they could make informed decisions.
The Association’s chairman at that time, the late Jim Cunnington, also asked the planning committee to defer decisions until newly elected district and county councillors could be there to represent their constituents. This has also become accepted practice.
It was the Association’s late president, Tom Knowles, who spotted in 2007 that an officer, under delegated powers, had made a decision which seriously undermined the YDNPA’s ability to fulfil one of its statutory purposes – to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.
The Association alerted the planning committee to the precedent set by the officer in allowing the removal of pitches for tents at Westholme caravan site near Aysgarth on the basis that this was a "planning gain". The result is that a site which had catered so well for touring caravans and campers, including those participating in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, has become a luxury lodge park where it costs about £600 per week to stay during the summer season. (For how the Westholme site started see Margaret Knowles.)
The planning committee took steps to contain that damaging decision and in June 2014 accepted that camping was "a low impact form of visitor accommodation" which enabled poorer families to come and enjoy this beautiful countryside and that this significantly benefited the economies of local communities. The new Local Plan will provide even greater protection for camping and touring caravan pitches in the National Park.
We need your support if we are to successfully lobby for more democracy within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and to act as a watchdog on the activities of the Authority. We want the voice of the people living and working in this area to be heard – locally, regionally and nationally.
The membership is £7 per year, or £10 for parish councils. You can send us comments via reports on this website. To do so click on one of the reports below.
The Secretary of State approved the extension of the boundaries of the YDNPA. But do read Cumbria County Coun Kevin Lancaster‘s personal view and that of Mike Warden who, until he retired, worked as a planning officer with the YDNPA and then with Harrogate Borough Council which included Nidderdale AONB.
To cut back on costs many more decisions are being made by planning officers. So parish councils and residents need to be even more vigilant when planning applications are advertised locally. Applicants and residents can contact the district or county councillor who represents their area on the YDNPA planning committee and request that an application should be discussed by the committee if they are concerned about the possible decision that just one planning officer might make.