Declining farming businesses result in damage to the landscape, and the chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, Alastair Dinsdale, is concerned that the policies of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority are helping to create that.
As a Wensleydale farmer he found It impossible to fill in the “Exploring our options” response form produced by the Authority as part of its consultation on its next Local Plan. Instead he sent the Authority his own analysis:
Community Sustainability – the options were : no new homes; 30 new homes per year; or 70 new homes per year.
To achieve a vision of a generations of people living and working within the landscape, to have a flourishing local economy that underpins a landscape, is of benefit to the nation, and to be a home to strong, self-reliant and balanced communities, you need to have residents, of all ages, with homes to live in and jobs to provide them with an income and services to provide basic education, health, transport, communication, recreational and cultural needs.
The National Park has set itself targets in the past and failed to meet them, and it has a duty of care to the local communities alongside its other duties. It should also recognise the positive contribution the local communities make to the nature and character of-the national park. The negative impact of the park planning policies on the communities can be easily seen by comparing communities inside the park to those just outside its boundaries. The park authority needs to not only prevent any further decline but also try and restore some of the decline suffered over the last 30 plus years.
An approach by target will not allow the Park Authority to look at housing as part of the larger picture, and targets have achieved very little in the past. If the Park Authority is to achieve its vision it needs to take elements of each of the options it outlines according to the circumstances of each application. Policy instruments have failed to stabilise the local population and are no more likely to work in the future.
As the planning authority has control of building design and location then they have it within their power to ensure there is no impact on cultural heritage and no building in areas likely to flood regardless of the absolute number of new homes built in the Park in any time period. The Park Authority has the opportunity not only to approve building in areas where such problems are not experienced but also to work with other agencies to improve water quality and help reduce the impact of flooding lower down the river catchment areas.
The Park Authority should have the knowledge and expertise to advise prospective house builders of the best choices for location, and construction to minimise GHG emissions. And the planning authority should have more vision to be pro-active and helpful not obstructive. The authority should also come up with plans to show how residents can make old, sometimes listed properties, that may have been the height of design decades or centuries ago, fit for purpose now, in a cost effective way.
The three options outlined are too rigid. The Park Authority needs to remain open minded and have room to alter its plans as scientific knowledge grows. GHG emissions affect us internationally. This has been very clearly demonstrated during the current coronavirus crisis. If you reduce flights and motoring then the GHG emissions fall dramatically.
The policy should be mindful of what is created locally and the planners should be proactive in promoting and suggesting good practice but the authority also needs to lobby for stronger action for the rest of the UK – and internationally.
The whole country should have an aspirational target of zero carbon but is it the role of the park authority to set a policy to target such a policy independently and to implement planning policies in line with that? It will create an even more distinctive line between the population of the park and the population outside the park. It should not be that this policy creates an environment where only those who can afford the aspirations can live.
A community requires affordable housing if it is to be balanced and there is a risk that pursuing a carbon zero policy out of line with the rest of the country will damage the local communities even further. The Authority also needs to clarify its policy with regard to solar panels, wind turbines and water power generation. The natural environment might suggest that the national park would be a suitable place for this type of investment and way of achieving carbon neutrality however the visual impact seems to have the over-riding power to stop such development. Is this inconsistent with the vision the park authority has outlined?
Finally how does the Authority reconcile tourism and its duty to bring more people to the park with its ambition for carbon neutrality? Even eco-tourism does not necessarily mean carbon neutrality. People still usually travel in some form of transport that produces GHG emissions. people still want to stay in comfortable, warm accommodation.
Again the three options are too rigid, and lacking in a pro-active approach. There needs to be flexibility and a creative approach that recognises the needs of all involved and the planning department reality should not act in isolation without consulting the other departments within the authority – for instance the farm advisory group.
The idea that re-wilding is the answer is questionable. Tree planting and peat restoration are long term projects and will not compensate either for carbon emissions generated by transport or for loss of income from current farm use at the moment. There will be minimal scope-for farm diversification, particularly in the short term while the projects become established and the tree planting will require a significant amount of time and money investing to ensure the 6ees are not damaged and grow to maturity. Damage by rabbits and deer can cause a significant number of saplings to fail.
Has the park authority drawn its data suggesting there will be significant savings in emissions from operations, fertiliser use and livestock from national statistics or from a study of farming operations within the national park? The farming within the national park will produce significantly less emissions than farms outside the park, on perhaps less rugged terrain and with a friendlier climate. There would be some saving but not as much as on arable farms or from large industrial livestock units. The type of farming in the park is also friendlier to the soil and will return nutrients to the terrain in the form of muck without moving large quantities of artificial fertiliser internationally.
There is also some debate about the amount of carbon capture that permanent pasture holds. Some suggest that it retains more carbon than forestry. More data will undoubtedly become available about this, but if the policy of the park was to encourage the removal of that pasture in the immediate future it would be very short sighted. There is no definition given of what is meant by nature friendly farming and by intensification. Are the three options mutually exclusive? At what point does a farm become intensive? The options are somewhat simplistic in their approach and fail to recognise the complexities and overlap of the three options.
The farming community makes a huge contribution to the appearance of the landscape. The farming community also possesses a huge a mount of knowledge about the landscape on a farm by farm basis, and knowledge and skills to maintain that landscape. The farming businesses within the national park sell their goods in a market place outside the national park, and have to compete with other businesses outside the national park. They have to abide by regulations relating to many aspects of their businesses that are set nationally and internationally but which are made harder to comply with and more costly by their location within the national park. In many ways the control over their property has been-eroded and to some extent confiscated by the national park to the ‘national benefit’. This is now also happening to the wider local community with the erosion of their representation on the planning authority.
Where there is a declining farming business is where you find most damage to the landscape. There is no surplus labour, or finance to buy labour, for maintenance of walls, barns, historic features, paths, gates, weeds control, etc. And there is no spare labour or money to invest in trees, hay meadows, leaky dams, hedges, etc.
There is also considerable scope for farmers to help with GHG emissions, not simply by tree planting, re-wilding and peat bog restoration - none of which habitat is necessarily the best for tourism, but also perhaps simply by maintaining pasture. The Park Authority could also be pro-active in schemes to use methane for instance in bio-digesters, or to install wind turbines.There are a lot of ambitions which the Park Authority profess to want to achieve, that are often dismissed simply because of visual appearance. There are also visions that the authority claim to seek that are damaged by excessive tourism. For instance the bird population, including populations of curlews, lapwings and oyster catchers had much successful years when access was restricted in the spring. This happened both in 200L during the foot and mouth crisis and during the current Covid crisis. How is the Park Authority going to reconcile it’s conflicting visions?
The Park Authority should be fighting to-keep the farming community and culture strong in an environment within which it has operated for centuries. It is part of the heritage of the area and it provides employment. The current coronavirus crisis has shown what happens that jobs in the hospitality and tourism sector may not be secure, whereas the farming employment has kept going. There is a real danger in planning policy resulting in all employment being reliant on one sector.
Finally the resources to finance environmental schemes – whether the ELMS scheme or some other scheme that may come along – are going to be severely damaged by the huge debts created by the coronavirus crisis this year and there is no guarantee that the re-wilding schemes can be funded or that diversification wiil be viable if farming incomes cease or planners make it too difficult to comply with regulations and compere in the national marketplace.