Upper Dales Area Partnership – January 2015

An ARC News Service  report of the Upper Dales Area Partnership  (UDAP) meeting held at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes on January 21, chaired by the leader of Richmondshire District Council (RDC), councillor John Blackie,  and attended by Tony Clark, managing director of the RDC; Callum McKeon,  RDC corporate director and solicitor; and David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).  The issues discussed were: austerity and financial cutbacks; post 16 bus passes; affordable housing; paediatric unit at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton; out of hours doctors service at Catterick Garrison; community defibrillators;  superfast broadband;  and emergency highway repairs.


Austerity warning

The country is going to face even worse austerity cutbacks in the next four years warned Tony Clark. He expected that  the “huge amount” of £1 million would be taken out of the RDC budget in that time.

He told the meeting: “We are going to see unprecedented reductions in public expenditure  – whatever party is in power after the general election.”

Callum McKeon said that the RDC was trying not to cut services but to deal with the shortfall by carrying out internal restructuring and by looking for new ways of generating income.  “We are working on a five year rolling process and the area partnerships will be a key way of our getting those messages across about the issues we are facing and the problems,” he added.

David Butterworth reported that as most of the Defra budget was not protected the YDNPA had been told to expect additional cuts of up to 50 per cent from 2015 until 2020. The YDNPA budget was reduced by 43 per cent from 2010 to 2015 and this led to 40 members of staff being made redundant in 2011.

The Authority was taking on projects which fulfilled the National Park purposes such as being responsible for the Pennine Bridleway.  This he said stretched from Derbyshire to Scotland and involved 14 local authorities who will pay the YDNPA to carry out the work.

At the Rural Summit held in Leyburn in November it was agreed that the RDC and the YDNPA must work in partnership to tackle problems during such a period of austerity.

Mr McKeon described how they were doing this concerning the future use of the Weatherald site at the old Askrigg railway station. The RDC has given £30,000 to fund a detailed study and development plan for the site.

Cllr Blackie commented: “One of the points that came out of the Rural Summit was that the old days of expecting people to do it for you – organisations to do it for you -have gone. If you are going to keep your communities vibrant you can’t expect someone else to do it for you.”

But he did not feel it was right to expect volunteers to do all the work. The local authorities had to meet communities half way by providing subsidies and resources.

The Rural Summit was a work in progress he  said and there would be a high level meeting soon between the RDC and the YDNPA to cement the working relationships between the two.

Post 16 bus passes

The high cost of an annual bus pass for Post 16 students attending the Wensleydale School is a tax on education and rurality, Carperby-cum-Thoresby parish councillor Steve Sheldon told the meeting.

All were amazed to hear that Post 16 students from Hawes were not allowed to get onto the school bus if they did not have a bus pass which now cost their parents £550 a year.

“My son said he would leave school and go to work because I couldn’t afford it,” said Diane Raw. She had, however, insisted that she would find the money.  She and the other parents who attended the meeting were especially aggrieved that the school bus always had empty seats.

She explained that as all the parents were working it was not possible to organise a car share system to take the students to the Wensleydale School which is about 18 miles away.  This is the nearest school and the Post 16 section of it could be jeopardised by the high cost of bus passes.

Cllr Sheldon commented that North Yorkshire County Council was penalising those who wanted to go on to further education and wondered how many young people had decided not to continue their education because of it.

Both he and RDC councillor Yvonne Peacock queried the principle of charging for bus passes when children now have to stay in some form of education or training until their 18th birthday.

“I am stunned,” said David Butterworth. “This is another attack on young people. In Britain we hate young people. We must do something to change this – it is outrageous.” He added that this was the first challenge to the Rural Summit.

Cllr Blackie, who is also a North Yorkshire County councillor, said that he had not supported the introduction of charges for bus passes for Post 16 students. When this was introduced a few years ago the bus passes had cost £300 but that had gradually increased. He stated:

“If you live in a place like Hawes or Swaledale there’s no way that you can have a car sharing scheme because it means somebody has to give up at least an hour of their day in the morning and an hour in the evening. At the Rural Summit we spoke about keeping young families in the dales. There is an exodus going on.”

The sixth-formers of today were potentially those who will find employment in the dales and become active members of the community in 20 years time Ruth Annison said.

Burton-cum-Walden councillor Jane Ritchie commented that the cost of the bus passes should be challenged but also wondered if, in the short term, a practical solution could be found. This might involve the parents forming a collective so as to apply for financial assistance.

It was agreed to support Cllr Blackie raising the issue at the county council’s area committee in March.

Paediatric service at the Friarage Hospital

There is little faith now in the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust since it announced that the paediatric unit at the Friarage Hospital  will be open for 20 hours less a week than was promised just three and a half months ago, Cllr Blackie told the meeting.

“We’ve lost faith, we’ve lost trust, we’ve lost confidence – and so has the public. The biggest cut back of hours is on a Saturday and Sunday when there are no GP practices open. They are actually cutting hours when they are likely to cause the greatest worry for young parents,” he said.

He reported that both the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which pays for that service,  and the county council’s  scrutiny of health committee were opposed to  the cutback in hours. The RDC has also  told the South Tees Trust that it strongly opposes the cutback and has asked that the 10am to 10pm seven days a week service be reinstated.

He pointed out that at present the South Tees Trust has only promised to review the situation in April.

Cllr Peacock was concerned that in the past a temporary cutback in a service at The Friarage had later become permanent. “Is history repeating itself?” she asked.

Cllr Ritchie, who is a lay member of the CCG,  agreed with Cllr Blackie that the South Tees Trust owed the local population an explanation and a commitment to bring the full service back as soon as possible. She said she had no additional information but did know that there was a serious shortage of doctors because it was proving difficult to replace those who had either retired or had emigrated to Australia.

The concern about the future of the Friarage Hospital  was raised by RDC councillor John Amsden who said: “I think they are just draining away the Friarage slowly but surely in anticipation of closing it.”  But Cllr Ritchie responded:

“I don’t think they will close it. The South Tees Trust has an enormous debt – I think that’s one of the things that might be causing practical problems. But I don’t sense at all a sort of ‘let’s get rid of the Friarage’.

“As I understand it the government is trying to get this 24/7 service and the only way they are going to do it is by having a small number of massive hospitals and all the little ones will get much, much smaller and become like super cottage hospitals. They don’t seem to be able to train enough doctors to cope with the demand.

The area partnership agreed to fully support the RDC in its opposition to the cutback in hours of the consultant-led children’s services at the Friarage Hospital.

Out of hours service

Ruth Annison said that the NHS should send out a simple set of instructions about how to get to the out of hours doctors’ service at Catterick Garrison.

Even the road signage had not been changed yet to direct people to the new location. Mr Clark reported that the highways authority hoped to erect a new sign soon.

And it didn’t help that a doctor contacted via the 111 service didn’t know where it was either. RDC councillor Richard Beal reported that when he had rung 111 he was connected to a doctor at Leeds who could not give him directions to the out of hours surgery.

It was agreed to ask the NHS to send details with a map to various publications including the Upper Wensleydale Newsletter, to holiday cottages and B&B providers, and to the parish councils.

The out of hours service is presently at the Harewood GP Surgery, 42 Richmond Road, Catterick Garrison, DL9 3JD.

Community defibrillators

Cllr Ritchie reported on the provision of community defibrillators in the dales and said she would like to see each village have a small team of people who had been trained in CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The area partnership approved a grant for the purchase of a dummy on which volunteers could practise.

She explained that it would be hard for one person to continue giving CPR for ten to 20 minutes and so it would be better if there was a number of people who could help.

There isn’t a community defibrillator at Carperby because there is a first responder team based there. That team’s equipment includes a defibrillator and an oxygen cylinder Cllr Amsden said.

Cllr Blackie told the meeting that the community defibrillators had been funded by the RDC’s Communities Opportunities Fund, with the district council working closely with the CCG so that even the smallest villages in Upper Swaledale had such equipment available. There was, however, a problem in Keld where the public phone box was some distance away from the community defibrillator and there was no mobile phone signal.

In an emergency a 999 call should be made to the ambulance service first. Ambulance control will then give the code for opening the box and accessing the defibrillator.

Affordable Housing

The right to buy council houses has been the death knell of the sustainability of small communities in the dales, said Cllr Blackie.

And Mr Butterworth commented: “Council houses provided the first rung for so many young people before they could get in a position where they could afford to buy a house. That first rung has been wiped away. I don’t think you or any other local housing authority will get any support from central government. We had better realise that we are on our own.”

He added that almost a quarter of the housing stock  in the Yorkshire Dales National Park was now second homes or holiday cottages.  And the proposal by the Minister of State for Housing, Brandon Lewis MP,  to limit the use of Section 106 agreements on new developments has further undermined their ability to provide affordable homes. The Section 106 agreements enabled local planning authorities to seek contributions from developers to mitigate the harm of developments on local infrastructure and to provide affordable housing.

Mr Butterworth stated: “I think what was galling was the announcement was shoved out on a Friday afternoon when no one was listening just before Christmas and what was more galling than that the fact that it just absolutely took the legs away from years of consultation that goes into developing (housing plans) by people who are living and working in those areas – by some bloke sat in Whitehall behind a desk who was issuing this dictat. To be fair to the bloke in Whitehall – it was actually the politician standing behind him.

“It was a political decision. Because it was rather bonkers there are one or two organisations that have decided to challenge it.”  (West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council have applied to the High Court for a Judicial Review.)

Cllr Blackie reported that many more local authorities were planning to challenge the government on this issue because it blew affordable housing policies out of the water. “I think the government has got it completely, utterly and totally wrong. We are hoping for a U-turn,” he said.

Mr McKeon explained that the RDC had sought the advice of a leading QC and had been told that, as the district council had only recently adopted its local plan, the minister’s statement, which now forms part of the National Planning Policy Guidance,  could be treated as a material planning consideration. The RDC will, therefore,  continue to apply its policy of requiring affordable housing contributions from development sites no matter what their size. The government guidance is that such contributions can now only be required on developments of 10 houses or more in urban areas, and on five or more in rural areas.

Cllr Peacock did question imposing a contribution on the construction of just one house. She argued that a local young family having a house built for their own use would find it hard to pay towards the provision of an affordable home for someone else. Mr McKeon explained that the contribution would only have to be paid if the house was later sold.

It was useful that the YDNPA and the RDC had been forced to work together to try and address such serious issues as the lack of affordable housing, said Mr Butterworth. “Richmondshire has this bold plan – to try and provide housing while circumventing the government’s proposals for the right to buy. It is critical that housing is kept for renting for perpetuity. I think the initiative by Richmondshire to have a go deserves a lot of credit regardless of whether anything comes of it.”

Cllr Blackie explained that the RDC had stated at the Rural Summit that it would explore setting up an arms-length trading company with the objective of seeing  affordable homes built which would not be subject to the right to buy. Mr McKeon told the meeting:

“We have started the groundwork and have actually set the company up. We are now going into the detail of the legal work to prepare a business case to see what we are allowed to do within the financial constraints that we operate within in the RDC. That work is underway.”

The RDC has also been consulting with the housing associations to find out why it is so difficult for them to build affordable housing in rural areas. “We are looking for ways they can work with the district council in partnership to overcome those hurdles – to allow them to do what they do best which is to deliver houses. The district council would play a supporting role rather than an active, actual building role,” he said.

Forty local authorities were working together to try and develop their own schemes for affordable housing, Cllr Blackie said. They were looking for finance on top of that available through the government’s Housing Revenue Account.

Superfast broadband

One of the key elements required for economic development in rural areas was the provision of superfast broadband, said Mr McKeon. For that reason the RDC was working closely with Superfast North Yorkshire  to try and resolve any problems, including “not spots”.

The RDC’s business and community officer, Chloe Lewis,  reported that the pilot project to test a remote node for a few residents at  Ulshaw Bridge had been successful but the cost of providing electricity to it had proved to be as high as the connection to a cabinet serving 200 households.

This would further  increase the high cost of providing superfast broadband to those villages which did not already have a BT cabinet.

Cllr Beal commented: “Where there isn’t an existing cabinet the argument from the BT side is that’s more complicated and costly and in remote areas prohibitive at the moment. In Arkengarthdale we are looking at extending a radio network up the dale.” But that would not be considered until after 2016 and residents wondered if it would ever happen, he added.

All the cabinets have now been fibred for superfast broadband  Cllr Sheldon reported and the next stage will be  to put fibre into those places that haven’t got it at the moment – like Aysgarth and Carperby. Cllr Peacock remarked that it was a disgrace that those two villages did not have superfast broadband yet and called for that to be done as soon as possible.

“It’s certainly worth waiting for,” commented Cllr Blackie as Hawes already has superfast broadband.

Emergency highway repairs

The area partnership supported Cllr Blackie in his call for more common sense with dealing with urgent highway repairs.

At present the protocol for out of hours highway emergencies is that the Police should be contacted. North Yorkshire Police will then inform the duty operatives at Selby Swing Bridge.

At the meeting Cllr Blackie referred to these as the Selby Bridge gang when he described an incident which had occurred at Gayle in late October. A concrete mixer lorry had spilled a considerable amount of wet concrete onto the road on a steep hill. As the concrete was setting fast he contacted a local RDC employee (Neil Banks) who, once he had permission from his supervisor, cleared it before it formed a hard, dangerous lump.

When Cllr Blackie wrote to the highways department to commend Mr Banks he stated: “It would have been absolutely no good calling North Yorkshire Police. By the time I would have been able to contact them, then spelt Hawes, then told them where Hawes and the incident was, then waited the standard five hours (at least) for a policeman to arrive, the concrete would have set. In the old days I would have called Mike Woodford who encouraged county councillors to get in touch with him on these urgent matters. This is frowned upon, if not ruled out, wrongly in my view, by current management practice.”

the highways department responded by telling Cllr Blackie that he should have adhered to protocol. He was informed: “The protocol is not in place to inconvenience anyone, it is there to ensure that the correct action is taken as quickly as possible given the resources available to us; the protocol also ensures that out of hours tasks are allocated fairly, rapidly and efficiently.”

Cllr Blackie told the area partnership that in December Aysgarth and District parish council had contacted those at Selby Swing Bridge to report a dangerous situation along the road above Thornton Rust scar.  It wasn’t until 11 hours later that any police came to check the situation – and by then the A684 was closed to traffic due to flooding. This meant that all vehicles, including emergency ambulances were using the road through Thornton Rust.

“So our emergency ambulance route out of the dales was hanging by a thread,” Cllr Blackie said. “I’ve had plenty of other experiences of the system and it doesn’t work. It might work up and down the A1 and A19 corridors but it is not an appropriate system for the upper dales with the weather we get here. We must go back the system we used to have with Mike Woodford.”

When arguing for a more common sense approach Cllr Ritchie stated: “They should send some people on a training session on how to work within austerity and work differently to solve local problems.”

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