An ARC News Service report on the meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority ‘s (YDNPA) planning committee on July 9 2019. The items discussed included: Natural England’s plans for Swarth Moor, and a project at Aysgarth Station.
Aysgarth Station, Carperby
Approval was given for new track to be laid at the former railway station, across the road bridge and along 200m of the former track bed which overlooks the National Park’s car park.
The owner of Aysgarth station, David Smith of West Coast Railways, will lease the former track bed from the Authority now that planning permission has been given. The approval was also for him to make private use of the railway for storing and moving locomotives, carriages and goods vehicles.
His agent, Steve Davies, who is also a director of the Wensleydale Railway, told the committee that Mr Smith’s plans for the old station would provide the best opportunity to reconnect Aysgarth station with Redmire.
This was queried by Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden who said the latter would only be possible if someone was willing to invest £1 million pounds per mile.
Like other members he did not feel that there would be much noise from the site especially as the approval only allowed for 12 locomotive movements a day, 36 days of the year. A planning officer stated that steam operations would be limited to one to two days a year.
It was pointed out that there was already a lot of noise and pollution due to the National Park car park and the number of people who visited Freeholders Wood, the SSSI which almost surrounds the station site.
The planning officer said that 35 trees will be removed many from along the sides of the raised track bed by the car park. She explained that area had been colonised by trees as the track had not been used for so long. One of the conditions will be a landscaping plan to show where replacement planting would take place, she told the committee.
Ian McPherson, the Authority’s member champion for the environment, said he would support the application but asked that the progress of the project should be carefully monitored. He added that the landscaping plan was important to ensure that wildlife corridors were protected. He noted that in certain areas of Britain Network Rail was destroying vast tracts of trees against the wishes of the Department of Transport.
North Yorkshire County councillor Richard Welch pointed out that Mr Smith’s company owned the carriages at Hellifield which were now covered in graffiti. “Are you confident that this is not going to end up the same?” he asked.
Mr Davies assured the committee that he was.
He said: “Two years ago we sold Aysgarth Station to what turned out to be the best possible buyer [Mr Smith].
“The Wensleydale Railway was in a significantly difficult financial situation. Aysgarth was a major millstone around our necks. We were servicing a £200,000 outstanding mortgage. The station building was falling down and there was actually no way the station could be realistically retained as part of the commercial portfolio of the railway.
“The sale of the station allowed the railway to pay off significant debts and it is an absolute fact that since that sale we have not looked back.
“We, as a board of directors, agreed that because Mr Smith had such ambitious plans for the site that we would support him in delivering this planning application. So I am effectively on secondment, if you like, from the board of the Wensleydale railway. And our vice chairman, Carl Les, has formally endorsed our support for this project.
“The second element of this project and with the mechanics of this application is that we believe that this provides the best possible opportunity to reconnect Aysgarth with Redmire. Mr Smith has the resources and personal ambition to start taking the track back towards Redmire.
“If you grant this application what you will not find is this is will become moribund and yet another undelivered major project. So your faith in the project will be met by a full investment to make this a reality.
“The sale of Aysgarth station …. caused a rift within our membership [and to] those who were absolutely convinced that Aysgarth [station] represented the jewel on the way to Hawes and Garsdale the sale was unthinkable and there was significant resistance. The successful delivery of this project will, I think, go a huge way towards healing some of the wounds. It will show that Mr Smith and the Wensleydale Railway did not make a bad decisions and that we are going to be in a position to optimise the chances of re-connecting Redmire with this station.
“I think we have gone a long way in satisfying the statutory requirements, particularly in terms of ecology, but the key issue is that although this is fundamentally a private venture it undoubtedly has major public benefits.”
The farmers who have grazing rights on Swarth Moor near Helwith Bridge in Ribblesdale were not consulted before Natural England applied to the Authority for permission for a restoration project which which will include the creation of water-filled ditches.
The planning committee heard that Natural England’s project would involve the construction of peat bunds for rewetting raised mire and the excavation of three mitigation ponds for great crested newts, as well as a viewing platform and a boardwalk.
Stainforth and Horton-in-Ribblesdale Parish Councils had objected to the application because: the grazier’s hadn’t been consulted; the ponds could be extremely hazardous to the livestock being grazed on the common land and the impact of an increase in the number of visitors on the wildlife on the moor especially the roe deer. These concerns were also raised by Austwick Parish Council.
Colin Newland of Natural England told the planning meeting that since submitting the application the agency had met with Swarth Moor commons rights holders. He said he had been told that they were concerned about the long term management of the moor and the impact on graziers’ livelihoods. “One of the outcomes of that is that we will take forward a Countryside Stewardship Scheme for the common,” he said.
Committee member Allen Kirkbride, who is chairman of Askrigg Parish Council, commented: “It seems that the farming community who graze this area have been just an after thought for Natural England who should know better.”
He agreed with North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine that a few decades ago landowners were given tens of thousands of pounds to grip and drain the peat moors. “Now they are being given tens and thousands to fill it in,” he said.
Another parish council appointee, Chris Clark, spoke from his own personal experience: “We’ve blocked 125 hectares and the results of that have been an increase in biodiversity, improved irrigation, and carbon sequestration. On top of that we have had absolutely no problems with the stock getting stuck or drowned.”
The committee was informed that, as common land was involved, Natural England would have to obtain the consent for its plans from the Secretary of State. It was, therefore, expected that the graziers would make representations to the Secretary of State.
A planning officer told the meeting that the project was aimed at halting and reversing the long-term decline of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by enhancing the lowland raised bog. “This is a national priority habitat which is very rare in the National Park and uncommon elsewhere,” he said. The project also aimed at protecting the home of a population of great crested newts. He added that roe deer were not legally protected. He maintained that the project would have a positive impact on the condition of the SSSI.
The majority of the committee voted to approve the application.