An ARC News Service report about the beginning of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s (YDNPA) meeting on September 24 2019. There were tributes to John Blackie by the chairman of the Authority and by the Association of Rural Communities (ARC) ; a call by Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council for the Authority to be called to account over disparaging remarks about John Blackie; and a question from the Association of Rural Communities about a possible conflict of interest.
Carl Lis’s tribute as chairman of the Authority to John Blackie
He said he and John Blackie were members of the Shadow Authority which was set up on April 1st 1996, the year before the new Authority was created. Prior to that, he explained, it was a committee of North Yorkshire County Council. He continued:
“Over the years John was always a massive advocate for his local community and the evidence of his personal achievements are there for everyone to see. That was evident at our conference last week when one of the tours centred on Hawes and highlighted some of the community issues that John’s input had been so [effective]. Everyone here I am sure will remember the tenacity John exhibited in supporting many, many local issues. The threatened closure of the Friarage Hospital was one of the notable ones but there were many others.
“I am sure all of us here today would have received emails on a whole range of issues over the years, many of them extremely detailed but always passionate. Some of them sent in the very early hours of the morning. That was John. I’m convinced that there will never be anyone quite like him. It would be wrong for me to suggest we always agreed but entirely appropriate for us to respect his memory and his achievements. With that in mind could I ask that we all stand to observe a minute’s silence in memory of John Blackie.”
There were two speakers during the Public Question Time
Jill McMullon, chair of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council:
She said that the comments that had been made about John Blackie at the July meeting of the Authority’s planning committee when he was absent had been described as ‘nothing short of disgraceful.’ She added that at the meeting in July it was suggested that Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council should hold Cllr Blackie to account. She continued with the following as agreed at the parish council meeting on August 12:
‘The Parish Council would like to make the following statement “disparaging comments made about Cllr Blackie are rejected as inappropriate and entirely untrue. The Parish Council and several members of the public in attendance wish it known that any comments made by Cllr Blackie in regard to the planning applications in question, are wholly supported. Furthermore, the Parish Council feels that it is the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority that should be held to account on this matter”.’
Pip Pointon on behalf of the Association of Rural Communities (ARC):
In August the Association of Rural Communities requested the advice of the Authority’s Monitoring Officer on the possibility of there being a conflict of interest arising from the chairman of the planning committee being a trustee of the Friends of the Dales. The Friends of the Dales states that it is a campaigning group and has often lobbied the Authority especially concerning barn conversion applications.
The Association was told that it would receive a written response from the Monitoring Officer – but as yet it has not received one.
The Association was also very concerned at how three Authority members made non-agenda statements at the beginning of the July planning committee meeting in which they criticised John Blackie. Allen Kirkbride reminded the committee that Mr Blackie was not there to defend himself.
When the Association queried this later Cllr Carl Lis stated : “At this difficult time for the Authority with Mr Blackie’s demise, I would suggest that if ARC wants to have a serious discussion about how we – and the local district councils – might tackle the difficult and complex challenges around the availability and affordability of housing, then I would genuinely welcome that.”
So why not honour Mr Blackie by remembering how he fought consistently for over 20 years for affordable housing for local people?
He had often begged the planning committee to be flexible enough to find a way to allow young families to create homes out of redundant barns. Because Mr Blackie did that again at the June planning meeting one member in July asked Hawes and High Abbotside parish council to call him to account.
This Association knows of no parish council in the Upper Dales which would call Mr Blackie to account for the way he tirelessly championed the cause of individuals and local communities – even from his hospital bed. If ever someone should have been honoured nationally for championing local communities it was Mr Blackie.
The chairman of the Friends of the Dales has called for a review of the Authority’s barn conversion policy because it was concerned about ‘aspects of the working of the policy which permits the conversion for residential purposes of barns regarded as being “roadside”’.
The Association of Rural Communities has been told that the Authority will instead begin the process of updating its Local Plan. When doing so, this Association hopes that the Authority will keep in mind the number of times parish councils have asked that local occupancy should be the priority when barn conversions applications are considered – especially as in the past few years the majority of barn conversions have been for business use, mainly for holiday lets.
Cllr Carl Lis’s Response
Thank you both for your statements
In relation to your comments about Mr Blackie, as I referred to earlier, I worked with John from Day 1 of this Authority in 1996. We both came to understand and accept that there would be some fairly robust discussions at times. It was his nature. He could take as good as he gave, and I think we would best honour his legacy now by looking forward.
Before we can do that, though, I have to deal with ARC’s allegations about Mrs Martin.
All Members of the Authority are aware of the rules regarding declaring interests at meetings when relevant to an item of business and participating when the item of business is debated and voted upon. Mrs Martin’s involvement with the Friends of the Dales is a matter of long-standing public record. Like all other Authority Members, she has completed a register of interests, which can be viewed by the public on the Authority’s website.
Many District Councillors, County Councillors and Members of National Park Authorities are also members of other organisations that campaign on particular issues or express views on individual planning applications. Your statement appears to suggest that none of these Councillors should be able to sit on the Planning Committee. That just can’t be right. I’d suggest that the issue here is simply that you don’t like the Friends of the Dales.
Looking to the future, I wrote to you some months ago offering to meet representatives of ARC to see if we could find a more helpful and constructive way of working. I haven’t given up on that possibility, so I shall write to you again after this meeting to make the same offer. In doing so, can I ask you please to provide some basic information about ARC. For example, do you have any objectives, a constitution, or elected officials? How many members are there and, if those members are public bodies such as parish councils, can you say who they are?
I’m sure you’ll agree that it is important that our Members and the public can understand what ARC is, and what its members’ interests are.
Press release by ARC immediately afterwards:
ARC didn’t make allegations against Julie Martin. It questioned the Authority on an issue of conflict of interest.
One of ARC’s founder members was the late Stephen Butcher. When he became a Craven District Councillor and represented that council on the YDNPA he stood down as a member of ARC so that there would be no question or possibility of a conflict of interest.
We have chosen to be independent – to provide a local democracy service and to monitor the YDNPA – something which many in the National Park appreciate and support.
For more about ARC see Association of Rural Communities and that information has been available on this website for years.