ARC News Service reports on the impact of decisions made by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority ( YDNPA ) on the pitches available for touring caravans and tents. This includes the £14million eco lodge development at Westholme, Aysgarth, which went ahead without the members of the planning committee knowing what was happening. The inspector’s report following an appeal by owners of the Honeycott Caravan Site at Hawes is included as this emphasised the need for pitches in the Yorkshire Dales for touring caravans and campers.
At the agm of the Association of Rural Communities, Tom Knowles, who developed Westholme in the 1970s into a site to accommodate 44 static caravans, 46 touring caravans and 23 tents, asked how the lodges could be described as “mobile homes”. He was also worried about the loss of sites for touring caravans and tents.
Hawes and High Abbotside parish council was so concerned this year that it strongly objected to the proposed loss of touring caravan pitches at Honeycott near Hawes, and so ensured that the application was discussed by members of the National Park Authority.
At the October planning meeting the members turned down the Honeycott application as they didn’t want to create an undesirable precedent and felt that the loss of touring caravan sites would result in a detrimental change in the balance of cheap holiday accommodation in the national park contrary to the policy of encouraging people to come and enjoy the area.
But this week, after seeing the Authority’s file on Westholme County Coun John Blackie said: “We are the guardians …. but we have shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
He disagreed with the senior planning officer, Andrew McCullagh, that the members had been told about the loss of touring caravan and tent pitches at Westholme.
When the owners of Westholme sought the advice of officers in 2005 about remodelling the caravan park they made it clear that they wanted to replace touring caravans with static caravans.
In response the Authority’s strategic planning officer said that for any such scheme to be approved it had to deliver a significant environment improvement and was concerned about the possible loss of touring caravan pitches.
When Burton cum Walden parish councillors carefully examined the first application in March 2006 they saw nothing to object to and so it was dealt with under delegated powers by planning officers.
A planning officer then asked the owners, Quintain Estates, for an area set aside for touring caravans and tents to be included in the application.
He added: “If it is still to be used for camping or for touring caravans, the improvement in visual and landscape terms from some additional tree planting on the application site would hardly be ‘significant’ – there will still be brightly coloured tents.” He agreed that the area should be turned into a managed meadow.
Full planning permission for 74 statics was granted in March 2007. The site was then bought by Darinian Ltd which stated this week that it plans to turn it into an exclusive five-star luxury lodge park of quality holiday accommodation which should provide employment for 20 full and part time staff.
Some of the 68 lodges, priced between £195,000 and £245,000, will be let by Hoseasons with a four-bedroom lodge costing £630 per week in August 2009. The lodges are being advertised as having panoramic patio doors and windows and private terraces, some with outdoor hot tubs.
Mr McCullagh stated: “The lodges…. fall within the legal definition of “caravans”, a definition which is remarkably and notoriously wide.”
Under the 1968 Act twin units are subject to maximum dimensions and only have to be capable of being transported by road when fully assembled whether lawfully or not. Darinian claim that their lodges fall within that definition.
Discussion of ARC questions at Full Authority meeting January 2009
THE Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority must have interim policies to protect a balanced range of visitor accommodation so that it did not turn into a rich man’s playground, it was decided at the Authority’s meeting in January 2009. This was agreed after members debated the three questions presented by the Association of Rural Communities about the ban on touring caravans and tents at the Westholme site near Aysgarth.
Both the association and its president, Tom Knowles, were thanked for raising the issue. None of the members had known about the decisions made by a planning officer under delegated powers concerning Westholme until informed by Mr Knowles.
So that a situation like that at Westholme could not happen again there was unanimous agreement on Tuesday that all applications in relation to caravan and camping site should be brought to the Authority’s planning committee and not dealt with under delegated powers by officers. (Sadly, a decision reversed a few years later.)
Parish Councillor Harold Brown commented: “Burton cum Walden parish council would have objected if it had known what the outcome what have been.” County Councillor John Blackie said: “It should not have to be up to a small parish council to bring to the authority a matter of such importance. We need a fail safe system. “Unknown to us a precedent had already been created behind closed doors and we don’t want to be in that position again.”
He explained that even when there wasn’t a market down turn young people had been coming on camping holidays to the National Park and it had been shown that 80 per cent of them would return later to stay in a variety of accommodation. The provision of cheap and cheerful accommodation for such people was important, therefore, for the sustainability and viability of the local economy, he added.
Peter Stockton, a senior planning officer, pointed out: “We don’t have a planning policy to protect visitor facilities and perhaps we should have. There is a fundamental issue there.” He explained, however, that it could take a few years to research market trends and prepare a new policy. The members voted unanimously for an interim policy to make sure that there was a balance of visitor accommodation in the national park.
They also followed the lead of County Councillor Roger Harrison Topham that the Authority, via the Association of National Park Authorities, should lobby the government to change legislation on the definition of a static caravan. One member said that the definition was so wide it would include a chalet which had had wheels painted on it. It was due to that definition that the decision to allow only static caravans at Westholme had led to the introduction of luxury five-star chalets there and the Association of Rural Communities asking what the National Park would do to stop the Yorkshire Dales becoming a rich man’s playground.
Mr Stockton said that the decision concerning Westholme had been made on the basis of there being a significant overall environmental improvement if there were no touring caravans or tents there. And the YDNPA chief executive, David Butterworth, pointed out that when there seemed to be a conflict between a National Park’s objectives to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public, it had been accepted that the priority was conservation.
Members felt, however, that any such decisions should be made by the planning committee and not by an officer under delegated powers. One member did state, however, that touring caravans and tents could be a blight on the landscape.
After the meeting Mr Knowles said that it had not been possible to see the tents and touring caravans at the Westholme site which he had and his wife, Margaret, had run for many years. The site had, he said, provided an important facility for those taking part in Duke of Edinburgh award scheme expeditions in Wensleydale as well as for many other young campers.
The chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, Alastair Dinsdale, commented later about the unanimous vote of thanks to the association: “This is a milestone for Tom. It makes the monitoring of the YDNPA that he has done for so many years all worthwhile. He has sat through so many meetings.”
Planning inspector’s report 2009 – Honeycott Caravan Site appeal
There must be sufficient touring caravan and tent pitches available in the Yorkshire Dales to allow people with limited incomes to enjoy the national park – and that need must become enshrined in the policies of the YDNPA.
This was the unanimous decision of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee on Tuesday, December 8. That was made exactly one year after Tom Knowles’ letter to the YDNPA in which he asked: “What will the Authority do to safeguard the right of young people and those on lower incomes to have access to the national park by ensuring that existing sites for touring caravans and tents are retained and, therefore, that the Yorkshire Dales are not turned into a rich man’s playground?”
Tom, who is the founder president of the Association of Rural Communities (ARC), owned the Westholme caravan park at Aysgarth for many years. He and his wife, Margaret, had welcomed a wide range of people and there were even two caravans owned by Sheffield Social Services to provide holiday accommodation for needy families. He began writing to YDNPA planning officers in 2008 to try and find out what was going on at Westholme. But, as was highlighted again at ARC’s agm in November, it would seem that YDNPA officers don’t always reply to correspondence.
When ARC began researching the situation at Westholme it found that an officer had decided that tents and touring caravans had a negative visual impact upon the landscape – and so had agreed with the owner at that time that they could be banned from the site. Neither the YDNPA members nor Burton cum Walden parish council were told about the amended plans (see below). And so the next owner was free to develop a luxury lodge site there. At the December planning meeting County Coun John Blackie pointed out that some of the lodges on that site are being sold for £240,000. Those lodges were installed thanks to what he described as the government’s incredibly loose definition of static caravans.
The YDNPA members did not learn about what had happened at Westholme until Hawes and High Abbotside parish council objected to touring 18 touring caravan pitches being replaced with 14 static pitches at Honeycott Caravan Site near Hawes, and ARC began requesting information. This led to the planning committee rejecting the Honeycott application. The reasons for refusal included that it would result in a detrimental change in the balance of provision of touring caravans and tents in the National Park and so would mean that less people would have an opportunity to understand and enjoy the special qualities of the Yorkshire Dales.
In her reasons for dismissing the appeal against this decision the planning inspector noted that approximately 200 touring caravan pitches had been lost in the Upper Wensleydale area in recent years, and of the 191 which remained 110 were only available to members of The Caravan Club. She upheld the opinion of the YDNPA that this reduction would result in a lack of affordable accommodation and that people on lower incomes would have less opportunity to visit, stay overnight in and enjoy the National Park – and, therefore, detrimental to one of its statutory purposes. “The inspector was amazing. It is a ground breaking decision,” said Coun Blackie. He added that although this decision set a precedent it was not quite a policy precedent. He was concerned that it could take two to three years for the Authority to incorporate this into its policies.
He told ARC committee members who attended the planning meeting that the Authority had instructed officers to send details of any amendments to planning applications to parish councils before any decision was made.